Media Library Type:
An Appreciation By Sir Evelyn Baring, High Commissioner For The United Kingdom
I first met Abdulla Kajee on the quay at Durban in July 1929, when I stepped off a British India steamer at the end of a long journey. Fresh from the rural life of northern India, South African Indians and their complex problems seemed to a little alarming and me strange.
Yet for those concerned with Indians in South Africa the period was one of hope. The Indian community was united. The office bearers of the South African Indian Congress included a Christian, a Hindu and a Muslim. The organisation was equally representative of the Tamil and Hindi-speaking descendants of indentured labourers on the one hand, and of the Gujerati speaking merchants on the other hand. Its leaders were not only united, they were also skilled representatives of their people. They were day by day working out a technique of approach to and negotiation with South African authorities, whether the central Government, the Provincial Administrations or the Municipalities. They had profited greatly by association during the 1927 Cape Town Conference with the wise and politically experienced delegates, both Indian and British, who had in that year come to South Africa on behalf of the Government of India.
Abdulla Kajee was notable among South African Indian leaders. He represented a point of view; and it was a hopeful point of view. He wished to serve his people, of this there was no doubt. But he saw very clearly the picture of life in South Africa for people of Indian origin. He realised that they must learn to live amicably side by side with Europeans; that to succeed in doing so they must establish good relations with Europeans, must at times leave unsaid what they might wish to say and at other times leave undone things they wished to do. It seemed to me that Kajee believed that only in this way could a leader of South African Indians in South Africa be effective; and Kajee himself was a very effective as well as a very painstaking leader.
Kajee was eloquent and he was forceful. He also had sense and political judgment. He understood and he acted on the well-known maxim that "politics is the art of the possible". He was, as I have said, eager to - serve his people, but he served them steadily with patience and persistence, not by fits and starts with violence and emotion. He was frank and he was no respecter of persons. He had an open mind and was willing to discuss any subject at any time. Later he became fairly well-to-do, but at the time I first knew him he lived in a small office approached through an archway leading out of Grey Street on the side where the big mosque stands. Here he would talk to anyone at any time. He was a true product of Natal, enjoyed the life of Durban, had an excellent sense of humour and never resented a joke at his own expense. All the time during all his work he kept in mind the necessity of the maintenance of personal relations with Europeans, and he realised that the worst fate for Natal Indians would be the development of a complete breach with Europeans.
Early this century when Lord Morley, the great Liberal statesman and historian, was Secretary of State for India, he remarked that the South African Indian problem was insoluble. There is much to be said for this view. People of two races living side by side give rise not so much to a single problem, which may suddenly be solved, as to a series of episodes, and in turn the treatment of these episodes either increases or decreases racial dislike. No man can "solve the South African Indian problem"; but a man can by his life and actions help to avoid the worst consequences of the series of episodes. Abdulla Kajee was such a man.