South African Indian Congress

by Joseph Lawlor


By 1919 in South Africa, several groups advocating for Indians had emerged, the Cape British Indian Council, and the two groups founded by Mahatma Gandhi: the Natal Indian Congress and the Transvaal British Indian Association. A meeting was called for in 1918 on the grounds that Indians had a right to not be discriminated against, although the meeting wouldn't take place until January 26, 1919. Grievances included oppressions and disabilities ignored or evaded by the government. In response, the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) was unofficially formed to represent the Indian community's and various Indian groups' rights and interests regarding apartheid. In 1923, the SAIC was officially formed with Omar Hajee Amod Jhaveri its first president. Over its lifetime, the SAIC contributed to the Freedom Charter, the Defiance campaign, and various movements of the ANC.


The SAIC accounted for much of the Indian presence in protests and campaigns in years to follow. As an umbrella Indian body, it included the Natal Indian Congress and the Transvaal Indian council. With a focus on satyagraha and repealing oppressive acts of the apartheid government, the SAIC garnered momentum and support from the average Indian citizen. The SAIC also worked closely with other anti-apartheid groups to contribute to the movement. Although their overall presence was small in South Africa compared to the ANC and other black advocacy groups, their contribution to anti - apartheid was not insignificant. It further diversified the movement and drew greater attention to the encompassing oppression of apartheid.

Key Points

- Non-violent, followed Gandhi's idea of satyagraha, civil disobedience

- Various strikes, against such bills as the Areas Reservation and Immigration and Registration bill and others

- Although never dissolved, was rendered near powerless in 1961 after the Treason trial, with leaders imprisoned the SAIC had very little impact in South Africa

Significant Events

- May 31, 1923 - South African Indian Congress formed.

- 1920's - Several trade unions formed, conferences, meeting with viceroy of India.

- 1930's - 1940's - Advocation, SAIC, in response to challenges for more militant protest, remains non-violent.

- 1943 - SAIC now working closely with African anti-apartheid groups.

- 1946 - 1948 - Passive resistance campaign against pegging act and Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act, AKA the "Ghetto Act," acts that restricted Indian land ownership.

- March 9, 1947 - Three Doctors' Pact signed with ANC and other groups

- December, 1951 - Collaboration with ANC for Defiance campaign.

- 1953 - 1956 - Freedom Charter collaboration along with ANC, SACPO, and SACOD. 320 Indians attended the Congress of the People.

- 1961 - Treason trial, relevance diminished by state repression.

- 1971 - Revival

Justification for Formation: Cape British Indian Council statement

"In view of the disabilities and inconvenience which burden the Indians ... it has been decided to call together delegates from the whole of South Africa ... as matters affecting us will simply drift and remain in their present unsatisfactory conditions, unless we join hands ... and lay our troubles before the authorities. .... It is to be borne in mind that the main object for which we are striving to raise the status of His Majesty's subjects [Indian] and that this desirable and praise worthy end will never be attained until we put our grievances forward in a united and resolute manner." - A. Esmal, A. Ismail, May 21st, 1918


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