A Brief Overview
It was in Volksrust that human rights activist Mahatma Gandhi and his wife, Kasturba, were arrested on numerous occasions, alongside other Indian protestors, for peacefully marching against the Black Act and Immigration Law. Gandhi’s Satyagraha Campaign resulted in the Gandhi-Smuts agreement of 1914 and better living conditions for Indians.
Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian lawyer and human rights activist, featured prominently in South Africa's liberation struggle during the 20th century. He is best known for adopting a passive resistance campaign, called Satyagraha, and concerned himself with the plight of Indian residents and merchants in South Africa. Their movement was restricted by the apartheid government, they could only reside in areas demarcated for Indians and could not freely move into the Transvaal. Gandhi, as the founder of the Natal Indian Congress, also called upon Indians not to register under the Black Act or to pay the grossly expensive £3 tax, which if they did not comply with would result in their repatriation to India.
In September 1913, Gandhi’s wife, Kasturba, and other female Indian protestors illegally entered the Transvaal by train. They were protesting against the government’s refusal to acknowledge marriages between Hindu and Muslim Indians. Due to the fact that Indians were not allowed to reside in the area and did not possess permits to do so, they were taken across Convention Bridge near Volksrust, which borders the two provinces, back to Natal. The protestors, however,
marched back into the Transvaal, where they were arrested and sentenced to three months in prison. Their arrest angered Indian community members and helped Gandhi’s Satyagraha Campaign gain momentum.
Two months later, Gandhi mobilised more than two thousand peaceful protestors, mostly Indian miners and railway workers, to march along the same route in protest against the Immigration Law. He was arrested, sent to Volksrust Correctional Services and released on £50 bail. His passive resistance drew more support and 155 others were arrested in the days following his arrest.
Gandhi was arrested numerous times after that and was served the harshest sentence. Gandhi’s peaceful resistance was successful as Jan Smuts, the Minister of Justice, was ordered by the British government to establish a commission to investigate the Indians’ grievances. In early 1914 the government agreed to all of Gandhi’s terms, they abolished the £3 tax and the Black Act, allowed Indians to move freely into the Transvaal and recognised Hindu-Muslim marriages as
legitimate. Today, Gandhi’s prison cell has been converted into a classroom where inmates are
taught life skills to help them adjust to life after prison, however, it is not accessible to the public.
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