WWI: The Smuts-Gandhi Agreement

On Tuesday 30th June 1914 the House of Commons had a routine sitting.

The Conservative MP for Knutsford, Alan Sykes, who had been commissioned a Deputy-Lieutenant to the Lord Lieutenant for Cheshire in 1910, rose to ask a question of the Under-Secretary of State for War about the Infantry Territorial battalions of Lancashire and Cheshire:

What percentage of the total enrolled number of officers and men of the Infantry Territorial battalions of Lancashire and Cheshire attended their annual camp this year in the Whitsuntide holidays, indicating what percentage attended for one week and what for the whole period, and giving comparative figures for the same battalions of their attendance at last year’s annual camp?

Harold Tennant, the Liberal Under-secretary of State for War, answered the Opposition question with specific percentages for 1914 and 1913, and said, when Sykes asked if the bounty of a pound had improved the attendance record:

It is impossible to give an answer yet as we have not had sufficient experience. I should not wonder if that had something to do with the result.


Among other business that Tuesday, Charles Thomas-Stanford was sworn in as the new Conservative MP for Brighton, a question was asked of the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, if arrangements had yet been made for the construction of the battleships and battleship cruisers included in the 1914–15 building programme, and a question was asked about the safety of Anthony Dell, a correspondent of the “Daily Citizen” (then the official journal of the Labour Party) who had been arrested by insurgents in Albania. No change was contemplated with regard to the service of British cavalry regiments in India.

But before the Orders of the Day, the Prime Minster, Herbert Henry Asquith, rose to say:

“That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty to express the indignation and deep concern with which this House has learned of the assassination of His Imperial and Royal Highness the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and of his Consort, and to pray His Majesty that he will be graciously pleased to express to His Imperial and Royal Majesty the Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary on the part of this House, his faithful Commons, their abhorrence of the crime and their profound sympathy with the Imperial and Royal Family and with the Governments and peoples of the Dual Monarchy.”

Andrew Bonar Law, Conservative MP for Dulwich and leader of the Opposition, rose to second the Prime Minister’s motion:

I desire to join with him in expressing our abhorrence of the crime and our sympathy with the Austrian people and their ruler in the calamity which we deplore. This crime, as the right hon. Gentleman has truly said, is one of those which, of all others, seems the most objectless. It has struck down the Archduke in the prime of life at the post of duty, it has struck down the wife whom he dearly loved, and who tried in vain to save him, and it has made their little children orphans, not because of any offence which he has committed, but as an act of revenge against conditions and against a system for which he was not responsible, and which such crimes can never alter.

On 30th June, Nikola Pašić, the Prime Minister of Serbia and Minister for Foreign Affairs, was sent a series of telegrams and letters:

  • From Yov. M. Yovanovitch, Serbian Minister at Vienna: The tendency at Vienna to represent, in the eyes of Europe, the outrage committed upon the Austro-Hungarian Crown Prince as the act of a conspiracy engineered in Serbia is becoming more and more apparent. The idea is to use this as a political weapon against us. The greatest attention ought, therefore, to be paid to the tone adopted by our press in its articles on the Serajevo outrage.
  • From Dr. M. Yovanovitch, Chargé d’Affaires at Berlin: The Berlin Press, in publishing articles based on information from Vienna and Budapest, in which the Serajevo outrage is connected with Serbia, is misleading German public opinion.
  • Dr. M. Yovanovitch sent another telegram the same day: The hostility of public opinion in Germany towards us is growing. and is being fostered by false reports coming from Vienna and Budapest. Such reports are being diligently spread in spite of the contradictions issued by some newspapers and news agencies.

The Prime Minister of Serbia was also sent two longer messages, from Serbian ministers in Constantinople and in Vienna – the capitals of the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The Serbian Chargé d’Affaires at Constantinople, M. M. Georgevitch, wrote concerning a meeting that day with Marquis Johann von Pallavicini, the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire:

I had to-day a long conversation with the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador here concerning the Serajevo outrage. I expressed the hope that this regrettable event–whatever is said about it in certain diplomatic circles–would not unfavourably influence the relation between Serbia and Austria-Hungary which lately had show considerable improvement.

He replied that such an eventuality was impossible, and ought not to be contemplated. He was also of opinion that Serbo-Austro-Hungarian relations had much improved lately. He added that the work in that direction ought to be persevered in. He informed me that from his latest conversations with Count Berchtold he understood that the latter was satisfied with the attitude adopted by the Serbian Government, and that he, on his part, sincerely desired friendly relations with Serbia.

The Serbian Minister in Vienna, Yov. M. Yovanovitch, having failed to meet with the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister Count von Berchtold, wrote to his Prime Minister:

As Count Berchtold was not able to receive me when I called, I spoke to the Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs concerning the Serajevo outrage. In the course of our conversation I adopted the following line of argument:–

“The Royal Serbian Government condemn most energetically the Serajevo outrage and on their part will certainly most loyally do everything to prove that they will not tolerate within their territory the fostering of any agitation or illegal proceedings calculated to disturb our already delicate relations with Austria-Hungary. I am of opinion that the Government are prepared also to submit to trial any persons implicated in the plot, in the event of its being proved that there are any in Serbia. The Royal Serbian Government, not withstanding all the obstacles hitherto placed in their way by Austro-Hungarian diplomacy (creation of an independent Albania, opposition to Serbian access to the Adriatic, demand for revision of the Treaty of Bucharest, the September ultimatum, &c.) remained loyal in their desire to establish a sound basis for our good neighbourly relations. You know that in this direction something has been done and achieved. Serbia intends to continue to work for this object, convinced that it s practicable and ought to be continued. The Serajevo outrage ought not to and cannot stultify this work.”

Baron Macchio has taken note of the above and promised to communicate to Count Berchtold all that I said to him.

On the same day I communicated to the French and Russian Ambassadors the substance of this conversation.

As we know now, Ritter von Storck had written from Belgrade the day before communicating quite a different picture to Count von Berchtold, and on 30th June von Storck, the Secretary of the Austro-Hungarian legation in Belgrade, had sent this telegram to von Berchtold:

To-day I sent an enquiry to Herr Gruic, General Secretary of the Foreign Office, to ask the obvious question what measures the Royal police had taken, or proposed to take, in order to follow up the clues to the crime which notoriously are partly to be found in Servia.

The answer was that the matter has not yet engaged the attention of the Servian police.

Mohandas K. Gandhi as a young manMeanwhile, 5342 miles away from Sarajevo, in Cape Town, South Africa, on 30th June 1914 the greatest architect of peaceful revolution in the 20th century was concluding his first campaign successfully.

Letter from E. M. Gorges, Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior, to Mohandas K. Gandhi, on behalf of the Minister of the Interior, General J. C. Smuts, and Gandhi’s reply. (See Appendix One.)

Cape Town,
June 30, 1914

Dear Mr. Gandhi,

Adverting to the discussions you have lately had with General Smuts on the subject of the position of the Indian community in the Union, at the first of which you expressed yourself as satisfied with the provisions of the Indians` Relief Bill and accepted it as a definite settlement of the points, which required legislative action, at issue between that community and the Government; and at the second of which you submitted for the consideration of the Government a list of other matters requiring administrative action, over and above those specifically dealt with in that Bill; I am desired by General Smuts to state with reference to those matters that:

1. He sees no difficulty in arranging that the Protector of Indian Immigrants in Natal will in future issue to every Indian, who is subject to the provisions of Natal Act 17 of 1895, on completion of his period of indenture, or re-indenture, a certificate of discharge, free of charge, similar in form to that issued under the provisions of Section 106 of Natal Law No. 25 of 1891.

2. On the question of allowing existing plural wives and the children of such wives to join their husbands (or fathers) in South Africa, no difficulty will be raised by the Government if, on enquiry, it is found, as you stated, that the number is a very limited one.

3. In administering the provisions of Section (4) (1) (a) of the Union Immigrants` Regulation Act, No. 22 of 1913, the practice hitherto existing at the Cape will be continued in respect of South Africa-born Indians who seek to enter the Cape Province, so long as the movement of such persons to that Province assumes no greater dimensions than has been the case in the past; the Government, however, reserve the right, as soon as the number of such entrants sensibly increase, to apply the provisions of the Immigration Act.

4. In the case of the “specially exempted educated entrants into the Union” (i.e., the limited number who will be allowed by the Government to enter the Union each year for some purpose connected with the general welfare of the Indian community), the declarations to be made by such persons will not be required at Provincial borders, as the general declarations which are made in terms of Section 19 of the Immigrants` Regulation Act at the port of entry are sufficient.

5. Those Indians who have been admitted within the last three years, either to the Cape Province or Natal, after passing the education tests imposed by the Immigration Laws which were in force therein prior to the coming into effect of Act 22 of 1913, but who, by reason of the wording of Section 20 thereof, are not regarded as being “domiciled” in the sense in which that term is defined in the Section in question, shall, in the event of their absenting themselves temporarily from the Province in which they are lawfully resident, be treated, on their return, as if the term “domicile” as so defined did apply to them.

6. He will submit to the Minister of Justice the cases of those persons who have in the past been convicted of “bona fide passive resistance offences” (a term which is mutually understood) and that he anticipates no objection on Mr. De Wet`s part to the suggestion that convictions for such offences will not be used by the Government against such persons in the future.

7. A document will be issued to every “specially exempted educated entrant” who is passed by the Immigration Officers under the instructions of the Minister issued under Section 25 of Act No. 22 of 1913.

8. All the recommendations of the Indian Grievances Commission enumerated at the conclusion of their Report, which remain over and above the points dealt with in the Indians` Relief Bill, will be adopted by the Government; and subject to the stipulation contained in the last paragraph of this letter the necessary further action in regard to those matters will be issued without delay.

With regard to the administration of existing laws, the Minister desires me to say that it always has been and will continue to be the desire of the Government to see that they are administered in a just manner and with due regard to vested rights.

In conclusion, General Smuts desires me to say that it is, of course, understood, and he wishes no doubts on the subject to remain, that the placing of the Indians` Relief Bill on the Statute Book of the Union, coupled with the fulfilment of the assurances he is giving in this letter in regard to the other matters referred to herein, touched upon at the recent interviews, will constitute a complete and final settlement of the controversy which has unfortunately existed for so long, and will be unreservedly accepted as such by the Indian community.
I am, etc.,
E. M. Gorges

Letter from “M. K. Gandhi, Esq., Cape Town” to E. M. Gorges:

Dear Mr. Gorges,

I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter of even date herewith setting forth the substance of the interview that General Smuts was pleased, notwithstanding many other pressing calls upon his time, to grant me on Saturday last. I feel deeply grateful for the patience and courtesy which the Minister showed during the discussion of the several points submitted by me.

The passing of the Indians` Relief Bill and this correspondence finally closes the passive resistance struggle which commenced in the September of 1906 and which to the Indian community cost much physical suffering and pecuniary loss and the Government much anxious thought and consideration.

As the Minister is aware, some of my countrymen have wished me to go further. They are dissatisfied that the trade licences laws of the different provinces, the Transvaal Gold Law, the Transvaal Townships Act, the Transvaal Law 3 of 1885 have not been altered, so as to give them full rights of residence, trade and ownership of land. Some of them are dissatisfied that full inter-provincial migration is not permitted, and some are dissatisfied that, on the marriage question, the Relief Bill goes no further than it does. They have asked me that all the above matters might be included in the passive resistance struggle. I have been unable to comply with their wishes. Whilst, therefore, they have not been included in the programme of passive resistance, it will not be denied that some day or other these matters will require further and sympathetic consideration by the Government. Complete satisfaction cannot be expected until full civic rights have been conceded to the resident Indian population. I have told my countrymen that they will have to exercise patience and by all honourable means at their disposal educate public opinion so as to enable the Government of the day to go further than the present correspondence does. I shall hope that, when the Europeans of South Africa fully appreciate the fact that now, as the importation of indentured labour from India is prohibited and as the Immigration Regulation Act of last year has in practice all but stopped further free Indian immigration and that my countrymen do not aspire to any political ambition, they, the Europeans, will see the justice and, indeed, the necessity of my countrymen being granted the rights I have just referred to.

Meanwhile, if the generous spirit that the Government have applied to the treatment of the problem during the past few months continues to be applied, as promised in your letter, in the administration of the existing laws, I am quite certain that the Indian community throughout the Union will be able to enjoy some measure of peace and never be a source of trouble to the Government.
I am,
Yours faithfully,
M. K. Gandhi

South Africa was then part of the British Empire. Between 1914 and 1918, more than 146,000 white South Africans, 83,000 black South Africans, and 2500 Asians and people of mixed race (“Coloureds”), served in military units: including 43,000 in German South-West Africa and 30,000 on the Western Front. It’s also estimated that 3000 South Africans joined the Royal Flying Corps. Total South African casualties of WWI were about 18,600 with over 12,452 killed: at least 4,600 on the Western Front.

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