. The Indians in South Africa consisted of three categories—one, the indentured Indian labour, mainly from south India, who had migrated to South Africa after 1890 to work on sugar plantations; two, the merchants—mostly Meman Muslims who had followed the labourers; and three, the ex-indentured labourers who had settled down with their children in South Africa after the expiry of their contracts. These Indians were mostly illiterate and had little or no knowledge of English. They accepted racial discrimination as a part of their daily existence. These Indian immigrants had to suffer many disabilities. They were denied the right to vote. They could reside only in prescribed locations which were insanitary and congested. In some colonies, Asians and Africans could not stay out of doors after 9 PM nor could they use public footpaths.
At the initial phase Gandhi relied on sending petitions and memorials to the authorities in South Africa and in Britain hoping that once the authorities were informed of the plight of Indians, they would take sincere steps to redress their grievances as the Indians were, after all, British subjects. To unite different sections of Indians, he set up the Natal Indian Congress and started a paper Indian Opinion.
The earlier campaign was widened to include protest against a new legislation imposing restrictions on Indian migration. The Indians defied this law by crossing over from one province to another and by refusing to produce licences. Many of these Indians were jailed.