Nadirshah Ardeshir Cama was born in Bombay in 1870. After passing the Intermediate Examination at the University of Bombay, he worked in the Bombay Port Trust from 1891 to 1895. He came to Durban in 1895 and worked for a few months with Messrs (spelled right?). Dada Abdulla & Co. He moved to Johannesburg early in 1896 and obtained a position in the Post Office. Unlike many other Indians, he remained in the Transvaal during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902.
He joined the British Indian Association founded by M K Gandhi in 1903 and became a member of the executive in 1906.
He played a prominent part in the passive resistance struggle against the Asiatic Registration Act, denounced by the Indian community as the “Black Act.” That law, enacted in 1907, required Asians – there were also Chinese miners in the Transvaal - to obtain registration certificates by giving ten thumb impressions. Any male over 16 who failed to produce the certificate on demand by the police or other officials was liable to arrest and deportation from the Colony.
This was not only an imposition on Indians who had already twice obtained permits to reside in the Transvaal. It was similar to the pass laws hated by the Africans and the Criminal Tribes Act in India which was enacted by the British rules there.
Cama, a fluent speaker, often denounced the actions of the government against the Indian community. He was dismissed from his job as postmaster at the end of 1907 after he refused to register under the Black Act and was arrested in January 1908. On 27 January, he was ordered to leave the Transvaal within fourteen days.
At the end of January, however, an agreement was reached between Gandhi and General Smuts, the Minister of the Interior. All satyagrahis were released from prison and pending cases dropped. Cama was reinstated in his old position.
Under this agreement, the Indian community agreed to register voluntarily. Gandhi understood that, in return, the government would repeal the Black Act. General Smuts denied that he had promised the repeal of the Act and further negotiations failed to result in a satisfactory agreement.
The Indian community burnt the registration certificates and resumed the satyagraha in the second half of the year. Cama was active in organising resistance and was again dismissed from his job in September 1908.
He was arrested on 17 February 1909 for failing to produce a certificate of registration under the Black Act and sentenced to three months with hard labour. In June, soon after his release, the Indian community elected him as a member of a delegation to India to make representations about the treatment of Indians in the Transvaal. The government arrested him and charged him again with the same offence, thereby preventing him from undertaking the mission. He served another term of imprisonment with hard labour.
He continued his public activities after the Satyagraha ended in 1914. He was elected Vice-President of the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC) and attended the Amritsar Congress of the Indian National Congress in 1919 as a delegate from South Africa. In the same year, when further anti-Indian legislation was under consideration, he joined other leaders of the TIC in pledging to resist any law which imposes class distinction or disability upon Indians and “to suffer, undergo and endure every consequence which such disobedience to the civil laws may entail.” He was elected to the council of the South African Indian Congress at its inaugural session in 1923.
Cama’s brother, Ardeshir Framji Cama, was also arrested in February 1909 and served a term in prison.
Cama was married and had five children, the youngest of whom was born whilst he was serving his last sentence.
• E.S.Reddy. (2012). From an email to SAHO, from Mr E S Reddy, dated 30 June 2012