Gandhiji in South Africa

Gandhiji in South Africa

In this article, we will deal with basic questions which can be asked in mains exam like how South African experience influenced his role in future movements which he led in India and the racism debate ie whether Gandhiji was a racist or not.

Role of South African Experience of Gandhi

  • Discrimination faced by Gandhi in South Africa directed at people of color like incident when he was thrown off a train at Pietermaritzburg after refusing to move from the first-class were a turning point in Gandhi’s life and shaped his social activism and awakened him to social injustice. 
  • Tolstoy farm and Phoenix farm were precursor to Gandhi’s Ashrams in India like Ahmadebad Ashram
  • Use of newspaper for political literacy and mobilisation. Indian Opinion was started by Gandhi in South Africa
  • He learned that Civil Disobedience & Passive Resistance were more effective than traditional moderate methods of prayers & petition.
  • Gained experienced of leading people from both genders, different religions, caste and social classes while facing resistance from both enemy and followers. Same he did in India. He spearheaded Khilafat Movement. He united people from different part of India and also paved the way for women in politics. He took break from the active politics for the emancipation of Harijans in India.
  • He learned about the sacrificing  power of woman and role they can play in peaceful resistance and satyagraha. Hence, he asked women to join the protests and court arrests. [was influenced by feminist Millie Polak]
  • Due to his experience in South Africa, he also realized the military might of British and was convinced that it can’t be challenged through force. Hence, peaceful means were the best way to defeat the Britishers.

Gandhi and Racism Debate

Gandhi didn’t embrace the Rights of Black people . Did it mean that he was indifferent to their cause.

  • He didn’t do that because of Pragmatic Considerations. He was working in a terrain where there were large variety of Indians (area, class and language) . Just getting along all of Indians was huge task for Gandhi. Pragmatically , Gandhi didn’t take up cause of Natives because he was not in position to handle such complex movement.
  • Moreover, Natives would not have accepted Gandhi as their leader.

Whether Gandhi was a Racist ?

  • Initially, Gandhi was racist in some aspects . One excuse can be , everybody was racist at that time (but this doesn’t remove him from his sins) . In many other domains, Gandhi was far ahead of his times. Hence, Gandhi cant be said to be ‘creature of his times’.
  • Gandhi was ignorant of the history of Black people. When his knowledge about Black people increased he started to write (especially in 1930s & 40s)  about India-Africa Solidarity. Hence, his views about Blacks changed during his lifetime.
  • Gandhi was embraced by great many African leaders (like Nelson Mandella) . If Gandhi was such racist , why these great leaders admired and took inspiration from Gandhi . Hence, even leaders like Mandela were ready to excuse Gandhi of whatever his initial stand was and go ahead with his final stand .
  • In 1936, Gandhi was visited by Afro-American Delegation at his Ashram . Gandhi said that next experiment in Satyagraha certainly would be taken by your people.

Hence, it can be said that whatever might be his initial views, his views in later parts of  his life weren’t racial .

As further reference, you can further refer the article by mrunal on his website. Click here to redirect to that article.

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