XV. THE BLACK
PLAGUE - I
The Indians were not removed from the location as soon
as the Municipality secured its ownership. It was
necessary to find the residents suitable new quarters
before dislodging them, but as the Municipality could not
easily do this, the Indians were suffered to stay in the
same 'dirty' location, with this difference that their
condition became worse than before. Having ceased to be
proprietors they became tenants of the Municipality, with
the result that their surroundings became more insanitary
than ever. When they were proprietors, they had to
maintain some sort of cleanliness, if only for fear of
the law. The Municipality had no such fear! The number of
tenants increased, and with them the squalor and the
While the Indians were fretting over this state of
things, there was a sudden outbreak of the black plague,
also called the pneumonic plague, more terrible and fatal
than the bubonic.
Fortunately it was not the location but one of the
gold mines in the vicinity of Johannesburg that was
responsible for the outbreak. The workers in this mine
were for the most part negroes, for whose cleanliness
their white employers were solely responsible. There were
a few Indians also working in connection with the mine,
twenty-three of whom suddenly caught the infection, and
returned one evening to their quarters in the location
with an acute attack of the plague. Sjt. Madanjit, who
was then canvassing subscribers for Indian Opinion
and realizing subscriptions, happened to be in the
location at this moment. He was a remarkably fearless
man. His heart wept to see these victims of the scourage,
and he sent a pencil-note to me to the following effect:
'There has been a sudden outbreak of the black plague.
You must come immediately and take prompt measures,
otherwise we must be prepared for dire consequences.
Please come immediately.'
Sjt. Madanjit bravely broke open the lock of a vacant
house, and put all the patients there. I cycled to the
location, and wrote to the Town Clerk to inform him of
the circumstances in which we had taken possession of the
Dr. William Godfrey, who was practising in
Johannesburg, ran to the rescue as soon as he got the
news, and became both nurse and doctor to the patients.
But twenty-three patients were more than three of us
could cope with.
It is my faith, based on experience, that if one's
heart is pure, calamity brings in its train men and
measures to fight it. I had at that time four Indians in
my office Sjts. Kalyandas, Maneklal, Gunvantrai Desai and
another whose name I cannot recollect. Kalyandas had been
entrusted to me by his father. In South Africa I have
rarely come across anyone more obliging and willing to
render implicit obedience than Kalyandas. Fortunately he
was unmarried then, and I did not hesitate to impose on
him duties involving risks, however great Maneklal I had
secured in Johannesburg. He too, so far as I can
remember, was unmarried. So I decided to sacrifice all
four - call them clerks, co-workers or sons. There was no
need at all to consult Kalyandas. The others expressed
their readiness as soon as they were asked. 'Where you
are, we will also be', was their short and sweet reply.
Mr. Ritch had a large family. He was ready to take the
plunge, but I prevented him. I had not the heart to
expose him to the risk. So he attended to the work
outside the danger zone.
It was a terrible night - that night of vigil and
nursing. I had nursed a number of patients before, but
never any attacked by the black plague. Dr. Godfrey's
pluck proved infectious. There was not much nursing
required. To give them their doses of medicine, to attend
to their wants, to keep them and their beds clean and
tidy, and to cheer them up was all that we had to do.
The indefatigable zeal and fearlessness with which the
youths worked rejoiced me beyond measure. One could
understand the bravery of Dr. Godfrey and of an
experienced man like Sjt. Madanjit. But the spirit of
these callow youths!
So far as I can recollect, we pulled all the patients
through that night.
But the whole incident, apart from its pathos, is of
such absorbing interest and, for me, of such religious
value, that I must devote to it at least two more