1907 Passive Resistance in the Transvaal


When the Natal legislature imposed a poll tax of one English pound on all residents of Natal, a revolt erupted. The revolt was carried out by Zulu tribesmen of the area and was put down when the leader of the revolt, Bambaata, was killed on June 10th..

    In 1907, the Autonomous Government of Transvaal enacted the Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance. This legislation, infamously known as the "Black Act", mandated the registration and fingerprinting of all Asians living in the region. It was not merely a bureaucratic measure; it was an overtly discriminatory policy aimed at restricting the rights and movement of the Asian community. The law required Asian men to carry a pass or face deportation, thereby institutionalizing racial segregation.

    Mohandas Gandhi, then a young lawyer in South Africa and a leader of the Indian community, saw the law as a gross infringement on personal rights and dignity. He believed in "Satyagraha," a term derived from Sanskrit meaning "truth force." It was a method of non-violent resistance against oppressive regimes or policies.

    In response to the ordinance, Gandhi mobilized the Indian community. By leading 10,000 Indian residents in protest, he demonstrated the united stance of the Indian diaspora against discriminatory laws. More than just marches and demonstrations, Gandhi's strategy encompassed a wide range of non-cooperation tactics. This included refusing to register, trading without licenses, and even burning registration cards publicly.

    Gandhi's commitment to non-violence was evident when he and other leaders of the resistance willingly faced arrest and imprisonment. These actions were not only symbolic gestures of defiance but also strategic moves to clog the prison system and further burden the colonial administration.


    Gandhi's resistance campaign in Transvaal set the stage for larger-scale protests and movements both in South Africa and later in India. The methods of Satyagraha became foundational in various global civil rights movements. The Transvaal protests did lead to negotiations with the South African government, resulting in a compromise in 1914, which included the recognition of Indian marriages and the abolition of the poll tax for Indians.

    While the gains might have seemed incremental at the time, the significance of the movement was far-reaching. It laid the groundwork for future civil rights struggles and firmly established Gandhi's reputation as a transformative leader. The experiences in South Africa were instrumental in shaping Gandhi's philosophy and strategies, which he would later employ in India's struggle for independence from British rule.