THE TWO SIDES OF MAHATMA GANDHI. His writings during his stay in South Africa reveal a racist who had deep disdain for Africans. He was able to repackage his image and is revered today. In his country he had a semi-God status and internationally he became a symbol of peace and truth that world leaders wish to emulate.
TODAY marks 70 years since the assassination of the revered Mahatma Gandhi on January 30, 1948, by Nathuram Godse. Gandhi was the pioneer of non-violence and practiced it throughout his life. His struggles brought freedom to a country which had been under British rule for about 200 years.
This is how the Indian Express captured news of his death: “Around five months had passed since India had achieved her hard won independence, and less than a week since an official constitution came into force. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the internationally acknowledged symbol of the Indian freedom struggle was on his way for prayer meeting scheduled for the evening. He was suddenly approached by a 35-year-old man named Nathuram Godse – a prominent member of the Hindu Mahasabha. He bent down in salutation in front of Gandhi before pulling out his revolver and shooting him thrice on the chest. Two hours later, Gandhi was declared dead, leaving the newly born nation mourning the loss of a father figure”.
But Gandhi’s writings during his stay in South Africa between 1893 and 1914 before he returned to India reveal his disdain for Africans and his relentless effort to prove to British colonialists that Indians were superior to Africans.
According to the book “The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire” by two university professors Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed, Ghandi described Africans as “savage,” “raw” and living a life of “indolence and nakedness”.
The Washington Post in 2015, reviewed the book. Here is a sample of what Gandhi said about black South Africans:
- One of the first battles Gandhi fought after coming to South Africa was over the separate entrances for whites and blacks at the Durban post office. Gandhi objected that Indians were “classed with the natives of South Africa,” who he called the kaffirs, and demanded a separate entrance for Indians.
“We felt the indignity too much and … petitioned the authorities to do away with the invidious distinction, and they have now provided three separate entrances for natives, Asiatics and Europeans.”
- In a petition letter in 1895, Gandhi also expressed concern that a lower legal standing for Indians would result in degenerating “so much so that from their civilised habits, they would be degraded to the habits of the aboriginal Natives, and a generation hence, between the progeny of the Indians and the Natives, there will be very little difference in habits, and customs and thought.”
- In an open letter to the Natal Parliament in 1893, Gandhi wrote:
“I venture to point out that both the English and the Indians spring from a common stock, called the Indo-Aryan. … A general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.”
- At a speech in Mumbai in 1896, Gandhi said that the Europeans in Natal wished “to degrade us to the level of the raw kaffir whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with, and then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness.”
Former President Nelson Mandela joined the many defenders of “young” Gandhi’s racist remarks. He wrote in an article in 1995, “Gandhi must be forgiven those prejudices and judged in the context of the time and circumstances. We are looking here at the young Gandhi, still to become Mahatma, when he was without any human prejudice save that in favour of truth and justice.”