Phindile Xaba  and Thapelo Mokoatsi

[intro]Our Pioneer this month is Mansukhlal Hiralal Nazar, the founder of the newspaper Indian Opinion which was launched more than 100 years ago. In his short life, he made a huge mark in politics and journalism[/intro]

“On 4 June 1903 a very tired but fired up young man worked till 3am in the morning in the central business district of Durban. He then walked to his home in Sydenham as the last tramcar had long departed. On 5 June again he worked till 11pm – there was an urgency with which he worked. His goal was to get a new newspaper before the public. The first issue of Indian Opinion was dated 4 June but it was only on 6 June that it could be released. The young man was relieved but he could not relax. He had the next issue to think about and it was due in five days’ time.

“He wrote `I am now anxious about the second number. With a small staff, and lack of materials – types, etc., and facilities, we have to keep the paper up to the mark!’

This man was MH Nazar, a secretary of the Natal Indian Congress,” said Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie, a professor of History at the University of Western Cape addressing the Conference on the Alternate Media to Commemorate the Centenary of the Founding of Indian Opinion, on 4 June 2003, Durban.

MH Nazar, was born Mansukhlal Hiralal Nazar. He arrived in South Africa from England in 1896 and unfortunately died of a heart related disease 10 years later, at the relatively young age of 44. Nazar, was described as one of the foremost Indian intellectuals and political leaders. His sudden death had a searing impact on his very close associate Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who would later be known as Mahatma Gandhi, with whom he had started Indian Opinion. Ghandi had landed in South Africa in 1893, and was a 23 year old Johannesburg based lawyer at the time.

The two had been approached by Shri Madanjit Vyavaharik, the foremost Indian printing press owner, who had conducted the press for years in the midst of difficulties, but had thought that the time was ripe to bring out a newspaper. The paper was born on 4 June, 1904, and MH Nazar volunteered to act as an unpaid editor. This launch issue was run at a loss with Gandhi bankrolling it. Gandhi recalled in his autobiography – My Experiments with Truth, “I had no notion that I should have to invest any money in this journal, but I soon discovered that it could not go on without my financial help … So I kept on pouring out my money, until ultimately I was practically sinking all my savings in it. I remember a time when I had to remit £75 each month.”

The journal was a weekly that reached 20 000 readers and was in the beginning issued in Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil and English, and later on the Tamil and Hindi sections were dropped.

Political Vision

Gandhi who was the Satyagraha – passive political resistance against British rule in India – leader says:

“Satyagraha would probably have been impossible without Indian Opinion.”

Nazar and Gandhi’s political vision was present in the Indian Opinion as they used it as an intellectual forum for modernising the Indian cultural imagination.

Together they used the newspaper as an instrument for mobilising Indian political activities in opposition to discriminatory racial laws as well as a unifying ideological centre for protesting against anti Indian immigration laws. A measure of Nazar’s intellectual seriousness is indicated by the lucidity and the forthrightness of the editorials he wrote from the founding of the newspaper in June 1903 to his death.

These editorials are impressively of high moral seriousness. It was this unrelenting and uncompromising engagement with the complexity of modernity that most impressed his associate, Gandhi, who was completely distraught when Nazar died.

The end of an Era

Gandhi wrote of Nazar in an obituary dated 6 June 1906:

“Without him this journal [Indian Opinion ] would never have come into being. In the initial stages of its struggle, Mr Nazar took up almost the whole of the editorial burden, and if it is known for its moderate policy and sound views, the fact is due, to a very large extent, to the part that Mr Nazar played in connection with it.”

He further wrote that:

“Mr Nazar’s death leaves a gap in the Indian community which will be difficult to fill. From 1896 up to the day of his death he was actively identified with almost every movement of the Indian community, more especially in Natal. His ripe judgment, his wide experience and statesmanlike ability were ever at the disposal of the Indian community. He filled the role of interpreter between the two communities with ability, tact and wisdom. Mr Nazar possessed a very keen sense of humour and he often saved a bad situation by means of that useful quality. Having travelled very largely in the West, and having lived in England for a long time, he had an intimate knowledge of Western civilisation, Western institutions and Western character. This knowledge, coupled with proficiency in the English language, always stood him in good stead in the course of his public work.”

A young Englishman who had had an opportunity to interaction with him was in awe of Nazar’s kindness. In a tribute appearing in the Indian Opinion, on 6 June 1906, as Gandhi’s obituary notice and editorial piece, Albert H. West wrote:

“Of his scholarly attainments, keen judgment, and political knowledge, I leave others to speak. It is to his kindness of heart and great consideration for the poor and unprotected that I wish to pay my tribute. Whilst keeping in view the grievances of merchants and traders, his sympathy went out more towards those poor unfortunate people – the indentured and labouring class – who always found in him a willing listener and kind adviser.”