Natal Indian Congress

Elise Gauthier


The Natal Indian Congress was created in 1894 by Mahatma Gandhi and was the first Indian Congresses to be formed. It was meant to fuel resistance to injustices against Indian traders in Natal. His frequent petitions drew world attention to the discrimination against those of Indian decent in South Africa. According to Gandhi, about three hundred Hindus, Moslems, Parsees and Christians became members of the congress in less than a month. Recruitment drives were held to stimulate recruitment and Indians throughout Natal were contacted and invited to join. The NIC had meetings at least once a month. Here, they discussed current affairs, accounts and other matters of importance. This organization was able to function with the help of the SAIC (South African Indian Congress). In the 1930s - 1940s, the NIC was lead by more radical leaders such as G.M. Naicker, who believed the South African Indian Congress could only advance in their struggle against discrimination if they cooperated with national organisations representing African and Coloured people. By the 1950s and 1960s, several of the NIC's leaders were in jail due to the movement's turn to more violent methods. The harassment of its leaders and the repressive conditions at that time led to a halt in its activities. It was only in 1971 that the NIC was revived. After this point, it began a focus on civic work and was prominent figure in the creation of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in the mid-1980s.

Gandhi on the persistent work of NIC members:

"Meetings were held every day and more and more persons attended them. The requisite funds were oversubscribed. Many volunteers helped in preparing copies, securing signatures and similar work without say remuneration.... The descendants of the ex-indentured Indians joined the movement with alacrity. They knew English and wrote a fine hand. They did copying and other work ungrudgingly day and night."

-Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi leads the march from Natal to the Transvaal: 1913

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Two of the most important campaigns organized and run by the NIC in its younger years were those that occurred in 1908 and 1913. During these campaigns, the Indian community provided proof of its willingness to participate in militant struggles. In 1952, the organization was involved in the Defiance Campaign, showing its importance on a larger scale. The NIC also had members that were Treason Trial defendants themselves. The Anti-South African Indian Council campaign of 1981 and the Anti-Tricameral Parliament Campaign against the creation of the House of Delegates in 1984 are examples of important campaigns towards the end of the fight against apartheid. The NIC was also one of the organizations that asserted in founding the United Democratic Front (UDF), and continued to be involved until the UDF's disbandment. The NIC even had various meetings with the ANC over the role of itself and the Transvaal Indian Congress after the ANC was unbanned in 1990. Eventually these two organizations were disbanded, but many of their leaders became active in newly-formed ANC branches.

G. M. Naicker: we will not collaborate

"We stand for a round-table conference to be held within the framework of the UN's resolution. We are not anti-European. We are the friends of all the peoples of this country.

We expect that the Ghetto Act will be unconditionally withdrawn, and that steps will be taken to remove the other disabilities against us.

We stand also for the removal of disabilities imposed on the Africans and all other races amongst us, and at all times we shall assist them in their struggle.

We stand for non-European co-operation as the best means of waging a struggle for the full implementation of the rights of all peoples of S.A. We regard the signing of our agreement with Dr. Xuma as a historic development in co-operation of our two peoples.

All of India is perhaps more pleased with this achievement than with all other steps to date. Just as we shall never rest till we are freed so shall we work till all the non-Europeans get equal treatment.

To all who think that we are not strong enough to continue the struggle we say: That with 8,000,000 out of 10,000,000 organised in a determined struggle, supported by India and Asia, and the rest of the peace-loving peoples of the world, we must win, just as all the countries of Europe and Asia raising aloft the proud banner of freedom and revealing an unconquerable spirit are winning through to independence."

Works Cited

Solomon, Hussein, and Sonja Theron. "Behind the veil: India's relations with apartheid South Africa." Strategic Review for Southern Africa 33.1 (2011): 103+. World History Collection. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

"Natal Indian Congress (NIC)." South African History Online. South African History Online. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

"66. G. M. Naicker: We Will Not Collaborate." South African History Online. South African History Online. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.