II. AUTOCRATS FROM
The officers at the head of the new department were at
a loss to know how I had entered the Transvaal. They
inquired of the Indians who used to go to them, but these
could say nothing definite. The officers only ventured a
guess that I might have succeeded in entering without a
permit on the strength of my old connections. If that was
the case, I was liable to be arrested!
It is a general practice, on the termination of a big
war, to invest the Government of the day with special
powers. This was the case in South Africa. The Government
had passed a Peace Preservation Ordinance, which provided
that anyone entering the Transvaal without a permit
should be liable to arrest and imprisonment. The question
of arresting me under this provision was mooted, but no
one could summon up courage enough to ask me to produce
The officers had of course sent telegrams to Durban,
and when they found that I had entered with a permit,
they were disappointed. But they were not the men to be
defeated by such disappointment. Though I had succeeded
in entering the Transvaal, they could still successfully
prevent me from waiting on Mr. Chamberlain.
So the community was asked to submit the names of the
representives who were to form the Deputation. Colour
prejudice was of course in evidence everywhere in South
Africa, but I was not prepared to find here the dirty and
underhand dealing among officials that I was familiar
with in India. In South Africa the public departments
were maintained for the good of the people and were
responsible to public opinion. Hence officials in charge
had a certain courtesy of manner and humility about them,
and coloured people also got the benefit of it more or
less. With the coming of the officers from Asia, came
also its autocracy, and the habits that the autocrats had
imbibed there. In South Africa there was a kind of
responsible government or democracy, whereas the
commodity imported from Asia was autocracy pure and
simple; for the Asiatics had no responsible government,
there being a foreign power governing them. In South
Africa the Europeans were settled emigrants. They had
become South African citizens and had control over the
departmental officers. But the autocrats from Asia now
appeared on the scene, and the Indians in consequence
found themselves between the devil and the deep sea.
I had a fair taste of this autocracy. I was first
summoned to see the chief of the department, an officer
from Ceylon. Lest I should appear to exaggerate when I
say that I was 'summoned' to see the chief, I shall make
myself clear. No written order was sent to me. Indian
leaders often had to visit the Asiatic officers. Among
these was the late Sheth Tyeb Haji Khanmahomed. The chief
of the office asked him who I was and why I had come
'He is our adviser,' said Tyeb Sheth, 'and he has come
here at our request.'
'Then what are we here for? Have we not been appointed
to protect you? What can Gandhi know of the conditions
here?' asked the autocrat.
Tyeb Sheth answered the charge as best he could: 'Of
course you are there. But Gandhi is our man. He knows our
language and understands us. You are after all
The Sahib ordered Tyeb Sheth to fetch me before him. I
went to the Sahib in company with Tyeb Sheth and others.
No seats were offered, we were all kept standing.
'What brings you here?' said the Sahib addressing me.
'I have come here at the request of my fellow
countrymen to help them with my advice,' I replied.
'But don't you know that you have no right to come
here? The permit you hold was given you by mistake. You
must go back. You shall not wait on Mr. Chamberlain. It
is for the protection of the Indians here that the
Asiatic Department had been especially created. Well, you
may go.' With this he bade me good-bye, giving me no
opportunity for a reply.
But he detained my companions. He gave them a sound
scolding and advised them to send me away.
They returned chagrined. We were now confronted with
an unexpected situation.