Hard labour is hard, and made infinitely harder by the warder who stands over you and forces you to work beyond your endurance, beyond human endurance. Gandhi, like us, had plenty of hard labour, and both his comrades and mine, survived to tell our tales. He describes a particular day in Volksrust prison.
"The day was very hot, all the Indians set to work with great energy. The warder was rather short of temper. He shouted at the prisoners all the time to keep on working. The more he shouted, the more nervous the Indians became. I even saw some of them in tears. One, I noticed, had a swollen foot. I went on urging everyone to ignore the warder and carry on as best he could. I too, got exhausted. There were large blisters on my palms and the lymph was oozing out of them. I was praying to God all the time to save my honour so that I might not break down. The warder started rebuking me. He did so because I was resting. Just then I observed Mr. Jhinabhai Desai fainting away. I paused a little, not being allowed to leave the place of work. The warder went to the spot. I found that I too must go and I ran." (Indian Opinion, 09-01-1909).
They splashed water on the fainted Jhinabhai and revived him. Jhinabhai was taken to his cell by cab. That hot day repeated itself on Robben Island in the early sixties.
We, like Gandhi's Indians, had been working at a brisk pace for three hours one day, when fatigue set in and some of us stopped to stretch our bodies. The warder was on to us, swearing and shouting. Then he turned to Steven Tefu, old enough to be his grandfather, very erudite, highly educated, and shouted at him, "Get on boy!"
Tefu drew together his dignity and reprimanded the warder in high Dutch, thoroughly confusing him. The outcome for Tefu was better than that for Jhinabhai.
As was the experience of Gandhi, we were marched off to work in groups of 30. He writes,
"At seven, work starts. On the first day, we had to dig up the soil in a field near the main road for purposes of cultivation." (Indian Opinion, 29-5-1909).
They quarried stones and carried them on their heads. We worked on the lime quarries, and the sun shining on the whiteness blinded our eyes. There were times when Gandhi agonised and wondered whether he had done the right thing by exposing his compatriots to the pain and indignity, but his firm conviction came to his rescue.
"If to bear suffering is in itself a kind of happiness, there is no need to be worried by it. Seeing that our sole duty was to break free from our fetters by enduring every hardship rather than remaining bound for life, I felt light in the heart and tried to instill courage in the others."