HISTORY OF THE PRETORIA HINDU SEVA SAMAJ 1932 – 1980
Movement from one place to another can lead to progress. Man is forced to use all his powers and talents in a new environment and to make it worthwhile and successful. “No matter how timid a man is, e is capable of the loftiest heroism when he is put to the test.” The beginning, however, is always humble and difficult, challenging and even frustrating, but the end product is thrilling an often permanent.
ARRIVAL AND PROGRESS
The Gujarati speaking community followed the indentured labourer. The adventurous, pioneering struggling spirit of Surat and Kathiawad districts culminated also in the Pretoria region. These early immigrants saw no need to organize. Their families were still in India. After 1927, wives and children followed for domicile. Need for Gujarati education arose. The need for retaining language, religion and culture of the mother country was a necessity.
Social contact between the Pretoria Gujarati’s remained active. In 1931 Mahatma Gandhi fasted in jail in India during the Independence Struggle against the British. This passive resister had spent some years in South Africa and actually lived in the Asiatic Bazaar, Pretoria. In sympathy, the community held daily prayers as long as the fast lasted for the national leader. Here the idea of forming an organisation appears to have germinated. An organisation in Johannesburg was named the Transvaal Hindu Seva Samaj. This prompted the name PRETORIA HINDU SEVA SAMAJ, established in 1932 – the name adopted by the Gujarati – speaking community of Pretoria. Incidentally, the first meeting of the Samaj was held at the Royal Cinema in Grand Street, Asiatic Bazaar.
The founder members that are mentioned in the records among other are:
Nana Sita and Family
Nathalal G. Kala, Jivan Gordhan, Pranlal M. Joshi
Ramam Naran, Rama Jeram, Danjee Chiba
Ranchhod Bhoola, Bhima Vala, Valjee Madhavjee
Chiba Kara, Chhagan Bhana, Givnd Bhana
Pema Lala, Bhoola Naran, Ramlal Mooloo
Nana Sita, Pema Panchia, Narsai Pema
Gosai H. Misrty, Chaganbhai S. Jivan ,Jamnadas Ranchhod
Parbhoobhai Nana, Morarbhai S. Mistry, Jamnada R. Govind
Jivan Patel, Narsaibhai M. Patel, Parbhobhai Manga
INITIAL ACTIVITIES AND NOTES
The venue and headquarters of the Samaj remained the corner of Tenth and Mogul Streets – a property purchased by the Community. This building was also used as the Vernacular School. The Seva Samaj also owned the vacant plot on Ninth Street. The properties served as a source of income for the Community. These also served initially as residence for teachers from India.
Besides the normal discussions regarding progress and problems, farewell receptions for members visiting the Mother Country, arrival of celebrities from India, general correspondence and end-shanti-paath, formed the contents of the Samaj meetings. It is noteworthy that by 1945 the Samaj opened its meetings with Gayatri Mantra and terminated with Gita Vanchan and shanti-paath: a forward step in the blessed beginning. The meeting even resolved to terminate by 10:30 p.m.
Noteworthy are the following from the Samaj minutes:
Regular consultations with various Hindu bodies related to Diwali and New Year Festivals: also with the Bharat Samaj of Lourenzo Marques (Maputo).
Contributions for 1942 quit India struggle.
For Bengal Relief fund in 1943.
Relief to victims of a tornado in Mauritius in 1945.
Visit of Dr Mirzah (1944), a Parsee at the Orient Hall who lectured on East-West culture sponsored by both the Samaj and the Muslim Council.
Pundit Ravishankar Vidyalankaar (1945) – from Lourenco Marques.
Pundit Rishiram (1945) for religious lectures.
Kumar Palana (1946) for gymnastic demonstrations: balancing act on highest building in Pretoria.
Swami Gajananda (1947) for religious discourse and stories.
Pundi Kunjroo (1947), (1950) for political and cultural lectors.
More recently the following personalities visited Pretoria for religious, political and cultural discourses:
Shakuntala-devi (1968-69) – mathematics genius; Krishnanand Saraswati (1974) from Mauritius; Swami Narayan sect (1974), (1977); Pundit Shiv Ram Maharaj (1975); Abram Bhagat (1975); Acharya Vaidyanath Shastri & Acharya Krishnaji (1975); Narhari Bhagat (1975); Yogiraj Jayantkumar Yagnik (1976) (1977); Pradyumna Shatri (1976); Swami Chiananda: ceremony for foundation of Hall; Ram Bhagat (1978); Mahant Ram Swarup Dasji (1978); Swami Premanand – attached to Avoca, Natal. Ooma Bharti (1979); Swami Deekshanandji (1979) who conducted Sanskrit classes for over two months.
A site in Jerusalem Street was acquired for a Temple, School and Hall, even a proper plan was drawn up and a committee was elected to raise funds. However, a large site was promised, and only by 1946 a site of Ten stands was expected near the old football ground area, but “the request of stands to build a school, temple, hostel and gymnasium could not be granted because the City Council was considering laying out a residential area for the benefit of the Indian Community” (Pretoria News 11/2/46). Finally, the ten promised stands in Asiatic Bazaar football-ground were given to the Community on a twenty year lease, but the Community had to wait until 1964.
By 1933 the Gujarati School was established as confirmed by the minutes of the meeting of 26 April 1942. The school was run by persons who had studied in India. They formed the teachers. By 1939 it was decided to obtain qualified teachers from India. On 7/12/41 a deputation approached the Commissioner for immigration and High Commissioner of India on 5/1/42. But only in 1944 saw the arrival of two teachers Mr Nichhabhai S. Patel and Chhotubhai Metha from India, Mrs Ambaben Cyclewala from India was expected to be helpful in teaching girls, but later left for Durban. The need for a well educated, well qualified teacher abd guide remained unsatisfied. Finally, the Immigration authorities after numerous requests allowed Mr Babubhai D. Patel to come to South Africa on a five year teaching contract. Once again the language was injected with the professional touch.
The Crematorium site was acquired in 1935. A fence was soon constructed around the area. The election of 1943 marked a height of activity for the building of the Crematorium, open to all Hindus. The Pretoria News 28/3/46 quoted the official opening: “The Crematorium was erected by Pretoria Hindu Social Service Society at a cost of 3500 of which 500 and the ground were granted by the council. The need of the Indian Community for land for recreational facilities was emphasised as well.
On 26/4/42 a library was formed. A youth organisation, Arya Yivak Mandal was given permission to run the library. Books and cupboards were donated. Constant use brought about an enthusiasm for literature and culture. A revival in 1960 led to a classroom being allocated. Tables and chairs followed for the readers and new shelves helped to maintain a Gujarati conscious reading population. As a result of population movement to Laudium the books were finally donated to the State Library, Pretoria. These books are now housed in a classroom in the present Gujarati School.
The girl guides from Arya Kanya Maha Vicyalaya from Baroda visited Pretoria in 1936 and gave it a boost to the formation of Viyamshala concentrating on the physical aspects of the youth. The Bhartiya Koshori Mandal concentrated on the cultural and craft activities of the youth. The Navyuga Mandal assisted by serving during weddings and even undertook to repair and paint the Samaj building and later the Crematorium.
There was a religious, educational and cultural revival. There was re-organisation of the school Committee and its valuable role in the Community and school was defined. The Community took special pride in activities of Krishna-Jayanti, Raksha-Bandhan, festivities of Diwali and Navratri. A bus was purchased by the Samaj to allow pupils living in the Prinsloo Street area to attend the school in the Asiatic Bazaar. The Gujarati school was truly a model in south Africa at the time. The Divine Life Society’s request to use a classroom for Hindu classes was a further boost to the progress of the Gujarati Community.
15 August 1947 marked not only independence for India from British Rule, but also freedom for Indians all over the world. Pretoria Gujarati’s with the Tamil League decorated their shops and houses with flags and buntings. Businesses were closed and a celebration holiday was declared. Even the City Council co-operated by charging normal rate for light decorations. A large procession led by the Hindu Brigade marched from Town to Asiatic Bazaar assisted by Police and the Traffic Department. A huge marque was put up on the old Pretoria sports grounds. A variety concert, speech by Pandit Kunjroo from India marked the highlights of the celebration.
PERIOD OF UNCERTAINTY
The National Party came to power in 1948. The political climate changed dramatically. The Indian community felt insecure and saw a dim, bleak future. Consequently, the building projects – Hall and the Mandhir – were shelved. This uncertainty seems to have permeated the lack in constructive activity. Personality clashes, private schools, resignations of teachers, enquiries and distrust were a further hindrance in this decade, leaving a bad taste for all. But there were sparks of improvement and a thought towards communal feelings. Elections after 1956 started with best of luck and good wishes. A period of fruitfulness was expected. This tied in with the political plant of the Groups Areas.
POLITICS AND DEVELOPMENT
In 1964 the Community Development Board took over the Asiatic Bazaar from the City Council. The Seva Samaj was accordingly given notice to hand over the Ten stands. By now LAUDIUM, the Indian residential area was established with its religious sites. However, the Pretoria Hindu Seva Samaj was not allocated a site to develop its religious, educational, cultural and social structure. Alas! Logical explanation of recovery of grounds returned, good intentions, persistent approach finally won the day when erven 250 – 251 was sold to the Community at the cost of R6 000,00. This flat site was reserved for a temple, school and hall development.
CONCERTED COMMUNITY EFFORT
“The salvation of the people depend upon themselves, upon the capacity for suffering and sacrifice”.
The Samaj hardly had funds. The public had to sacrifice. What should come first? Discussions and criticisms followed. “The school was the basic requirement, then the temple” it was thought.
In memory of his parents, Dr B. Jogee of East London donated R8 000, 00 laying a firm Mandir foundation. R80 000 came from the coffers of the public – spirited, generous and charitable people of Pretoria. The religious, Satsang Mahila Mandal and the cultural Kishori Mandal contributed R5 000 each. The front wing of the school wall reflects plaques with their generous donation. In spite of difficulties, the project was finally completed. An official opening of the Mandhir and the induction of the Idols, specially imported from India were done on 14 May 1972. Invitations were sent out to all Hindu organisations throughout South Africa. Each Hindu family of Pretoria was invited for lunch provided by the Mahila Mandal. A truly historical and religious Day began with thanksgiving, procession of religious floats while the Ramakrishna Band highlighted this memorable activity with the pomp and rejoicing. This was the Day of climax that gave the Gujarati inhabitant of Pretoria a source of pride and satisfaction… nearly forty years of yearning and achievement… “our very own Mandhir and Gujarati Shala” thought each relevant individual of the Seva Samaj.
A Hall project would complete the square. But this was not easy due to varied thoughts and plans. Meanwhile, the Gandhi Centenary Celebrations followed. Annual speech contests and festival celebrations continued.
Pretoria hosted the Transvaal speech competition providing lunch for the audience and participants. A properly established and acceptable constitution allowing for the intended purpose and modernisation, a co-operative spirit, many devoted hours and charity tours can be said to have led to a successful conclusion of a monumental task – the completion of a Hall that the Community of Laudium can be proud of.
The Gujarati Community of Pretoria, it can be safely said, has progressed culturally and also economically in these past forty eight years. Since the acceptance of the Indian people as permanent part of South African population in 1961, roots have become firmer; houses and living conditions have improved; adaptation and diversity have increased. The Community can feel proud and be thankful that they have managed to remain in the changing times and values if the ever flowing river of progress and look to an optimistic future.
“If we are to make progress, we must not repeat history, but make new history. We must add to the inheritance left by our ancestors”.
Nana Sita – Gandhian and Civil Rights Leader and Freedom Fighter in South Africa
Name: Sita, Nana
Born: 1898, Matwad, Navsari, Gujarat, India
Died: 23 December 1969
In summary: Secretary of the Pretoria branch of the TIC, involved the Indian Passive Resistance Movement, member of the executives of the Transvaal Indian Congress and the Transvaal Passive Resistance Council, President of the Transvaal Indian Congress, in 1952, he led a batch of resisters which included Walter Sisulu, Secretary-General of the African National Congress during the Defiance Campaign, detained during the 1960 State of Emergency, banned person, imprisoned for defying the Group Areas Act
.Please note: this is an extract from E.S. Reddy collection of articles. http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/nana-sita
Nana Sita was born in Matwadi, a village in Gujarat, India, in 1898, in a family which was active in the Indian freedom movement. He went to South Africa in 1913 and lived for some time with J.P. Vyas in Pretoria, to study book-keeping. Soon after his arrival, Gandhiji, then leading a Satyagraha, went to Pretoria for
negotiations with General Smuts and stayed almost two months in the same house.
Identifying himself with the indentured Indian labourers, Gandhiji ate only once a day, wore only a shirt and loincloth, slept on the floor and walked barefoot several miles to the government offices to meet General Smuts. The contact with Gandhiji had a great influence on Nanabhai`s life. He followed the simplicity of
Gandhiji, and became a vegetarian, teetotaller and non-smoker. More important, he was always ready to resist injustice and gladly suffer the consequences.
He worked for some years in his uncle`s fruit and vegetable business and then started his own business as a retail grocer. He was active in the religious and social welfare work in the small Indian community in Pretoria. He joined the Transvaal Indian Congress and became secretary of its Pretoria branch.
During the Second World War, when the Government imposed new measures to segregate the Indians and restrict their right to ownership of land – culminating in the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act of 1946 (the “Ghetto Act”) – militants in the Transvaal and Natal Indian Congresses, led by Dr. Yusuf M. Dadoo
and Dr. G.M. Naicker, advocated mass resistance. They were able to defeat the compromising leaderships of the Congresses and launch a passive resistance campaign in June 1946 with the blessings of Gandhiji. The campaign was directed by the Transvaal and Natal Passive Resistance Councils and over 2,000 people went to jail.
Nana Sita joined the militants as any compromise with evil was against his principles. He became a member of the executives of the Transvaal Indian Congress and the Transvaal Passive Resistance Council. He acted as Chairman when Dr. Dadoo was in prison or on missions abroad.
He led a large batch of “United Nations Day volunteers” – Indians, Africans and Coloured people – from the Transvaal in October 1946 and was sentenced to 30 days` hard labour. After release, he went to prison a second time. Almost every member of his family – he had seven children – went to jail in the campaign. His daughter
– Maniben Sita courted imprisonment twice.
Nanabhai – always wearing the Gandhi cap – became a familiar figure in the Indian movement. His courageous spirit was reflected in his presidential address to the Transvaal Indian Congress in 1948.
“Do we all of us realise the significance, the importance, the heavy responsibility that has been cast upon each and every one of us when we decided to challenge the might of the Union Government with that Grey Steel, General Smuts, at its head? Are we today acting in a manner which can bring credit not only to the quarter
million Indians in South Africa but to those four hundred million people now enjoying Dominion Status as the first fruits of their unequal struggle against the greatest Empire of our times?
“It is for each and every one of us in his or her own way to answer that question with a clear conscience. But let me say that I have nothing but praise for those brave men and women fellow resisters of mine. History has ordained that they should be in the forefront in the great struggle for freedom in this colour-ridden country of eleven million people…
“Over two thousand men and women have stood by the ideal of Gandhi and have suffered the rigours of South African prison life and they are continuing to make further sacrifices in the cause of our freedom. We at the head of the struggle cannot promise you a bed of roses. The path that lies ahead of us is a dark and difficult one but as far as I am personally concerned I am prepared to lay down my very life for the cause which I believe to be just.” (Passive Resister, Johannesburg, April 30, 1948).
The Indian passive resistance was suspended after the National Party regime came to power in June 1948, but only to be replaced by the united resistance of all the oppressed people.
In June 1952, the African National Congress and the South African Indian Congress jointly launched the “Campaign of Defiance against Unjust Laws” in which over 8,000 people of all racial origins were to court imprisonment.
Nanabhai was one of the first volunteers in that campaign. He led a batch of resisters which included Walter Sisulu, Secretary-General of the African National Congress. He came out of jail in shattered health.
The next year, when Dr. Dadoo was served with banning orders, Nanabhai was elected President of the Transvaal Indian Congress but he was also soon served with banning orders preventing him from active leadership of the community.
Yet, in 1960, during the State of Emergency after the Sharpeville massacre, he was detained for three months without any charges.
With the banning of the African National Congress and the escalation of repression, leaders of the ANC decided to undertake an armed struggle, taking care even then to avoid injury to innocent people. Those who believed in non-violence as a creed or could not join the military wing of the movement faced a serious challenge as even peaceful protests were met with ruthless repression. Nana Sita – with his Gandhian conviction that resistance to evil is a sacred duty and that there is no defeat for a true satyagrahi – was undeterred. Like Chief Albert Lutuli, the revered President-General of the ANC, he continued to defy apartheid – especially the “Group Areas Act”, described as a pillar of apartheid, which enforced racial segregation at enormous cost to the Indian and other oppressed people.
In 1962, Hercules, the section of Pretoria in which Nanabhai lived, was declared a “white area” under the “Group Areas Act”. He was ordered to vacate and move from his home – which he had occupied since 1923 – to Laudium, a segregated Indian location eleven miles away. He defied the order and was taken to court on December
10th, the United Nations Human Rights Day.
Denouncing the Group Areas Act as designed to enforce inferiority on the non-white people and cause economic ruination of the Indian community, he told the court overflowing with spectators:
“Sir, from what I have said, I have no hesitation in describing the Group Areas Act as racially discriminatory, cruel, degrading, and inhuman. Being a follower of Mahatma Gandhi`s philosophy of Satyagraha, I dare not bow my head to the provisions of the unjust Act. It is my duty to resist injustice and oppression. I have
therefore decided to defy the order and am prepared to bear the full brunt of the law.
“It is very significant that I appear before you on this the tenth day of December, to be condemned and sentenced for my stand on conscience. Today is Human Rights
Day – the day on which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was accepted by the world at the United Nations. It is a day on which the people of the world rededicate themselves to the principles of truth, justice and humanity. If my suffering in the cause of these noble principles could arouse the conscience of white
South Africa, then I shall not have strived in vain.
“Sir my age is 64. I am suffering with chronic ailments of gout and arthritis but I do not plead in mitigation. On the contrary I plead for a severe or the highest penalty that you are allowed under the Act to impose on me.”
He was sentenced to a fine of 100 Rand or three months in prison, and warned that if he failed to comply he would be given twice that sentence. He refused to pay the fine and spent three months in prison.
The next year, as he and his wife, Pemi, continued to occupy their home, he was again taken to court and sentenced to six months in prison.
The authorities charged him and his wife again in 1965. He appealed to the Supreme Court challenging the validity of the Group Areas Act. The matter dragged on for a year before his appeal was dismissed.
When the trial resumed in 1967, Nanabhai read a 19- page statement on the background of the Group Areas Act which he described as a “crime against humanity”, and said:
“The Act is cruel, callous, grotesque, abominable, unjust, vicious and humiliating.
“It brands us as an inferior people in perpetuity, condemns us as uncivilized barbarians… “One day the framers of this Act will stand before a much higher authority for the misery and the humiliation they are causing….
“If you find me guilty of the offence for which I am standing before you I shall willingly and joyfully suffer whatever sentence you may deem to pass on me as my suffering will be nothing compared to the suffering of my people under the Act. If my suffering in the cause of noble principles of truth, justice and humanity could arouse the conscience of white South Africa then I shall not have strived in vain… I ask for no leniency. I am ready for the sentence.”
Many Indians attended the trial and wept when he concluded his statement.
He was sentenced again to six months` imprisonment and served the term, declining the alternative of a fine of 200 rand. His wife was given a suspended sentence.
On his release from prison, he said:
“It is immaterial how many other people accept or submit to a law – or if all people accept it. If to my conscience it is unjust, I must oppose it.
“The mind is fixed that any injustice must be resisted. So it does not require a special decision each time one is faced with injustice – it is a continuation of one commitment.” (Jill Chisholm in Rand Daily Mail , April 6, 1968) .
Soon after, on April 8, 1968, Nanabhai and Pemi were forcibly ejected from home and government officials dumped their belongings on the sidewalk. But they returned to the home and Nanabhai never complied with the order until he died in December 1969.
Few others followed Nanabhai`s example of determined non-violent resistance in the 1960`s. The militants among the Indians, espousing armed struggle, had been captured, or went into exile, or tried to rebuild underground structures which had been smashed by the regime in 1963-64. The traders, who were severely affected by the Group Areas Act, had given up resistance after all their petitions, demonstrations and legal battles had failed. A silence of the graveyard seemed to have descended over the country.
But the resistance of Nanabhai was not in vain. It showed that non-violent defiance need not be abandoned even at a time of massive repression or armed confrontation. It inspired people in efforts to overcome frustration and apathy. The Indian Congresses, which had become dormant, were resuscitated in later years and helped build the powerful United Democratic Front.
Nana Sita`s children – Maniben Sita and Ramlal Bhoolia, both veterans of the 1946 passive resistance – played leading roles in the resurgent movement, defying further imprisonment.
As the freedom movement recovered, the Soweto massacre of African schoolchildren on June 16, 1976, failed to intimidate the people. Thousands of young people joined the freedom fighters. And many more began to demonstrate their support of the struggle and defy the regime, making several laws inoperative. The struggle entered a new stage.
The mass non-violent defiance campaign, which swelled in recent years like a torrent encompassing hundreds of thousands of people, has made a great contribution, together with the armed struggle and international solidarity action, in forcing the racist regime to seek a peaceful settlement. South Africa, the land where Gandhiji discovered satyagraha , has enriched his philosophy by adapting it under the most difficult conditions.
Nana Sita – who held up the torch when the movement was at an ebb – was in a sense the last of the Gandhians. The mass democratic movement now derives inspiration from many sources, including the experience of the long struggle of the African people and the Gandhian tradition cherished by the Indian community.
Nana Sita is remembered with respect as his colleagues in struggle – Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada and others now out of jail – lead the nation in its continuing efforts to eliminate apartheid and build a non-racial democratic society.
He passed away on 23 December 1969, shortly after the centenary of Gandhiji, at the age of 71.