76th Anniversary of the 1946 Passive Resistance Campaign
13 June 2022, marks the 76th anniversary of the passive resistance campaign in 1946. The Natal Indian Congress launched its campaign of passive resistance as a protest against the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act, which excluded Asiatics from occupation of controlled areas in and around Durban.
Before this act, the main areas that Indians occupied were beyond the Umgeni River, in Riverside and Prospect Hall and further inland at Duikerfontein and Sea Cow Lake. Springfield and Sydenham were also predominantly Indian. Indians also settled in areas such as Mayville, Cato Manor, Clairwood and Magazine Barracks, and the Bluff.
Even though informal segregation existed at this time, it was not until 1922 that the first major restriction came about when the municipality reserved the right to exclude Indians from purchasing any municipal land. The Slums Act was passed in 1934 in order improve conditions and to facilitate ‘slum clearance’ within the city. Behind this veil, the Slums Act factually meant the expropriation of Indian property. The Municipality’s rationale for this expropriation was cleverly masked as the city cleanup and industrial expansion. Ironically as late as the 1970’s Indians, in places like Tin Town in Springfield still lived in shacks without basic services. By 1936, only 20% of Indians owned houses in Durban that were made of brick, stone or concrete, the rest lived in wood and iron structures. The colonial government did not provide electricity to these residents, as they did not trust that the Indians could handle it.
The 13th June 1946 was declared as Hartal day when twenty Indians began the passive resistance campaign on Thursday night by pitching 5 tents on vacant land in a controlled area at the junction of Gale Street and Umbilo Road and camping there. This group of 20 men, under the command of Dr. G. M. Naicker, chairman of the Natal Indian Congress, kept the strictest discipline. Dr. Naicker remarked, “if and when he and his men were arrested or removed from their camp another 20 would move in to take their places.”
A few years earlier the Pegging Acts of 1942 – 43 gave the government the right to remove and destroy shacks and homes in some areas under the pretext of improving unsanitary living conditions. By 1946, the Passive resistance campaign became a major focus of Indian community activism to contain the aforementioned ‘Indian penetration’
The Ghetto Act paved the way for the Group Areas Act passed in 1950, which proclaimed large parts of previously owned and occupied Black areas to be now exclusively occupied by White residents. This meant that the non-White communities who found themselves in these areas would have to be moved to other areas designated as ‘Indian’, ‘Coloured’ or ‘African’.
This act caused a major uproar and led to the two-year passive resistance campaign from 1946 to 1948 when several thousand Indians courted arrest. Despite the protests, the act was passed in 1948. The Group Areas Act formalised the process of separate development. By 1950, the Group Areas Act displaced thousands of Indians and Africans from their homes and businesses.
Indians were removed from areas such as Mayvile, Cato Manor, Clairwood and Magazine Barracks, and the Bluff. By 1950 there were adverts in the newspapers for an exclusively Indian suburb called ‘Umhlatuzana’. Later, Red Hill and Silverglen (later Chatsworth) were also advertised. Reservoir Hills, which was also declared an Indian area, was able for the more well to do Indians. In the north of Durban, La Mercy and Isipingo Beach were also designated Indian areas. In Merebank, purpose built houses replaced the poor settlements and by the late 1950’s a reconstructed Merebank offered cheap houses for which the purchaser had ten years to pay.
Zandile Qono, Sites of Struggle Collective spokesperson whose family was a key part of the campaign pointed out that the current generation needed to honour the history of the struggle for a non-racial society. “Our activism must serve as memory against forgetting that people lost their lives, went to prison, were thrown out of their homes and had their lives destroyed by a racist government.”
Selvan Naidoo is a Board Director the 1860 Heritage Centre, Kiru Naidoo is author of Made in Chatsworth and advisor to the UKZN Gandhi-Luthuli Special Collections.
To commemorate the 1946 Passive Resistance Campaign, the Sites of Struggle Collective, together with MicroMega Publications will publish a pictorial book titled “We Shall Resist” by Kiru Naidoo and Selvan Naidoo. The foreword is written by struggle veteran and the last remaining executive member of Dr Monty Naicker’s Natal Indian Congress leadership, Judge Thumba Pillay.
Extract from the book, We Shall Resist:
“FIRST SHOTS IN THE FIGHT”
‘A little before eight o’ clock on Thursday evening a number of people, among them six women, entered and took up “residence” in tents, which had been pitched earlier in the day on a piece of municipal land, about forty minutes walking distance from the center of this city – and the first shots had been fired in the second Passive Resistance struggle to be called in South Africa in under half-a-century.
The women were Miss Zainab Asvat, Miss Zohra Bhayat, Mrs. Amina Pahad, Mrs. Zubeida Patel (all of Johannesburg), Mrs. Lakshmi Govender and Mrs. Veeramah Pather from Durban. The men were Dr. G.M. Naicker, president of the Natal Indian Congress, Mr. M.D. Naidoo, Secretary N.I.C., and Messrs. R.G. Premlall, V. Patrick, V.S.Chetty, P.Poonsamy, Shaikh Mohomed, R.A. Pillay, Abbai Soobramoney, T.J. Vasi. S.Abdul Kader and M.N. Govender.’