“My life is my story”
Mohandas Gandhi was born on 2 October 1869 in Porbander, India. In 1886 he went to England to study law.
Having trained as a lawyer in London, he returned to India but found that it was impossible to practice in Bombay as it was extremely difficult to earn a living.
After moving from Bombay to Rajkot and still battling financially he was accepted a position in South Africa by a firm from his home town of Porbander
Mohandas Gandhi arrived in Natal in 1893 with the intention of only remaining for a year to act in a matter concerning two Indian merchants.
Unlike many British educated Indians, Gandhi was not interested in politics, but his stay in South Africa was to change him profoundly.
Mahatma Gandhi, who led India’s struggle for independence, spent many of his formative years as a young lawyer in South Africa.
He was soon exposed to racial discrimination when he was requested to leave a first class compartment as he did not have the correct ticket but he refused to move to a third class carriage and was removed from the train at Pietermaritzburg station, on 7 June 1893.
Separated from his luggage he spent a very cold night in a shed, an experience which helped him to formulate his philosophies on Satyagraha or peaceful but firm resistance.
This strategy was used extensively in South Africa and later during India’s struggle for liberation from Britain.
Satyagraha means, literally, to keep to the truth. Gandhi considered truth a dominating principle of life, not to be enforced by violence but by spiritual convictions and the power of love. He did not consider it to be a sign of weakness but rather of incredible strength.
At the end of his law case he was preparing to leave for India, when he learned of a bill being introduced into the Natal Legislature to disenfranchise Indian settlers.
After pleas from the Indian merchants he agreed to stay on for a month to fight on their behalf. His farewell party was converted into a committee meeting. His stay continued and eventually he was enrolled as an advocate to the Supreme Court.
He believed that petitions against the disenfranchising bill were not sufficient and that continual agitation was essential to make an impression.
Thus in 1894 he formed the Natal Indian Congress. He was a close friend of John Dube, the first president of the African National Congress. Often controversial and unpopular amongst his rival in the Natal Indian Congress, he was nonetheless seen as a champion of the working class Indians.
The struggle for civic rights for Indian immigrants was long and hard. In 1896 he paid a brief visit to India to canvas support for the rights of Indians in South Africa. He returned to Natal with his wife and children in January 1897.
At the outbreak of the Anglo Boer War in 1899 he organised an Indian Ambulance Corps of 100 men. They under under great personal danger, carried wounded soldiers off the battlefields to the field hospitals. Gandhi, himself, being one of these stretcher bearers and setting an example for others. In 1906 they also served during the Bambatha rebellion.
By now Gandhi had moved to the Transvaal and was enrolled as an attorney of the Transvaal Supreme Court. He founded the Transvaal British association to assist and look after the welfare of the Indians residing there.
As he believed it was essential to have a newspaper he founded and edited the first Indian newspaper, “Indian Opinion” in 1904.
In this same year he purchased land near Durban, known as the “Phoenix settlement”
In January 1908 he was arrested for breach of the registration law and sent to prison. He was released the following month.
He also set up the “Tolstoy settlement” 21 miles from Johannesburg for his colleagues and their families, as the Phoenix settlement was too far from Johannesburg.
Gandhi applied passive resistance principles during protests by indentured labourers in the province.
indentured labourers came to Natal in 1860 to work the sugar cane fields.
On completion of their indentureship most Indians wanted freedom to settle on the lands.
However, the government imposed an oppressive three pound tax, intended to force the Indian workers back into indentureship.
Gandhi protested and led several marches and demonstration. Possibly the most well known march was the one in 1913.
In 1913 Gandhi held a protest meeting in the Dundee Temple grounds, as part of the campaign against the hated poll tax. Over 3000 people attended this meeting.
A group of eleven Indian women, including Gandhi’s wife, courted imprisonment by crossing from Natal into the Transvaal without permits.
The Indian labourers on the coal mines around Durnacol and Newcastle went on a sympathy strike.
The coal mine owners retaliated and Gandhi decided that he was responsible for these miners and their families. He decided to walk the 2037 men, 127 women and 57 children from the mines to the Tolstoy settlement, but was arrested along the way.
was imprisoned in Volksrust and then transferred to Pretoria. The miners were entrained back to the mines and forced back to work.
These actions created a furore in India and negotiations between Gandhi and the South African government began, under pressure from India and London. Eventually an agreement was reached and some of the major points on which Satyagraha had been waged were conceded; the £3 tax on ex indentured labourers was abolished and marriages performed according to Indian rites were accepted as legal.
“It was my fate to be the Antagonist of a man for whom even then I had the highest respect. His activities at that time were very trying. Gandhi himself received – what he no doubt desired – a short period of rest and quiet in goal. For him everything went according to plan. For me – the defender of law and order – there was the usual trying situation, the odium of carrying out a law which had no strong public support, and finally the discomfiture when the law had to be repealed. For him it was a successful coup.
Nor was the personal touch wanting. In goal he had prepared for me a very useful pair of sandals which he presented to me when he was set free. I have worn these sandals for many a summer since then, even though I may feel that I am not worthy to stand in the shoes of so great a man.” – General Smuts
Shortly after this, having spent twenty one years in South Africa, Gandhi decided to return to India. On his return in 1914 he was already being hailed as a Mahatma (a great soul)., a title which was given to him in South Africa.
There are a number of statues in his memory in KwaZulu-Natal; Durban, Ladysmith and at Talana Museum, Dundee.
The statue in the grounds of Talana Museum was commissioned by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, New Delhi, through the Consulate General of India in Durban.
In 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War, in London he raised an Indian Ambulance Corps to assist during that war.
For the next 33 years he continued his campaign of passive resistance to gain independence for India from Britain. Fasts, marches and continual talks with the British authorities eventually brought the independence which was granted in August 1947.
At the beginning of 1948 he started a fast to try and bring about Muslim-Hindu unity. He ended his fast when he was assured that racial conflict would be avoided and any conflict would be negotiated.
On 30 January he was assassinated by Nathuram Vinayak Godse.
His was a life that worked for the preservation of human dignity, human rights and a sense of self worth for all peoples, irrespective of race, colour or creed.
“His legacy is courage,
His lesson truth,
His weapon love.
His life is his monument.
He now belongs to mankind.”
Louis Fischer – American writer.
Some of Gandhi’s sayings
“I do not want to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be shut. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. I refuse to live in other people’s houses as an interloper, a beggar or a slave…
Mine is not a religion of the prison-house. It has room for the least among God’s creation. But it is proof against insolence, pride of race, religion or colour.
Indian nationalism is not exclusive, nor aggressive nor destructive. It is health giving, religious and, therefore, humanitarian. India must learn to live before she can die for humanity.”
“Non-violence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute. The spirit lies dormant in the brute and he who knows no law but that of physical might. The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law – the strength of the spirit.
Non-violence is a power which can be wielded by all – children, young men and women or grown-up people, provided they have a living faith in the God of Love and have therefore equal love for all mankind. When non-violence is accepted as the law of life, it must pervade the whole being and not be applied to isolated acts.
The very first step in non-violence is that we cultivate in our daily life, as between ourselves, truthfulness, humility, tolerance, loving kindness.
Non-violence is an unchangeable creed. It has to be pursued in face of violence raging around you.
My non-violence does not admit of running away from danger and leaving dear ones unprotected between violence and cowardly flight. I can only prefer violence to cowardice.
The path of true non-violence requires much more courage than violence.”
“If we all believed in ‘an eye for an eye’ the whole world will be blind.”