Amid the current uproar that black people have shown towards the injustices against us in the world, once again, we are in full support of the #BlackLivesMatter campaign. From all the interactions and information that has arisen over the past week all over the world, an important and integral part of black people's development is proving to be us knowing our history. Not everyone wants us to know it. Some things we may have come across in school, crazily have an entire other narrative to the story that is swept under the rug, maybe deliberately missed out of the national curriculum here in the UK [we'll explore that more]. Therefore, this article is about the global peace icon, Mahatma Gandhi. No it is not about his peace mission and pacifist fight against the rule of British colonialism. It is about the side that is imperative for us Africans to know. This article highlights the ideologies of young Gandhi in South Africa, and his taste for discrimination against black Africans during his time there. Hence why I gave into the temptation of naming this post "The Mis-education of Mahatma Gandhi...For Africans'.
So for some background, you probably know who Gandhi is, he was an Indian born lawyer and an anti-colonialism, nationalist politician. His full name is actually Mahondas Karamchand Gandhi, and he lived from 1869 to 1948. He was assassinated in New Delhi, India. When you think about Gandhi as a child that grew up in the UK, you would remember the lessons throughout school, when we learned about him being a nonviolent, humanitarian figure and peace icon. Actually, before I started to look into African history, I never had a bad thought of Gandhi.
He became a powerful Indian political leader and wanted an independent and free India. To achieve this, he believed in resistance but it’s through non-violent civil disobedience which he called “satyagraha”. Gandhi lived in South Africa for more than two decades - 1893 to 1914 - and campaigned for the rights of Indian people there also. By many, he would be described as the father of India's independence and the leader of the movement that liberated India. But to Africans he is actually way more.
Anti African Beliefs
When you search for Gandhi and racism online, you will come across many articles with questions as titles, with regards to whether Gandhi was a racist. However, a revolutionary book by South African scholars Desai and Vahed, revealed more about Gandhi campaigning for white supremacy. He also had a belief that the Indians were better than the Africans. He understood the elitist dominant position of white people in society but wanted some form of junior partnership. Ultimately he wanted to segregate the blacks from the Indians; Gandhi believed in the Aryan brotherhood. This involved whites and Indians higher up than Africans on the civilised scale - I suppose the only component he was taking into account was the colour of their skin? Baring in mind, Gandhi had the audacity to reinforce these ideas in South Africa, a land that belongs to black Africans... "to that extent he was a racist. To the extent that he wrote Africans out of history or was keen to join with whites in their subjugation he was a racist," Desai (2016). This is not up for debate, his image of being a global peace icon is only legitimate to his own people, as he wanted the freedom of Indians at the expense of black people.
In the book by Desai and Vahed, they listed several derogatory beliefs that Gandhi upheld, as well as believed that state power should remain in white hands, and called black Africans Kaffirs, a derogatory term, for most of his time in South Africa. From what is documented, it is clear that his ideology was heavily focused on the separation of blacks from the Indians. South Africans have always accused Gandhi of working with the British colonial government to promote racial segregation. Some of the ideas that Gandhi had of Africans are as follows:
"Indians are a little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa".
In 1904, he wrote to a health officer in Johannesburg that the council "must withdraw Kaffirs" from an unsanitary slum called the "Coolie Location" where a large number of Africans lived alongside Indians. "About the mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians, I must confess I feel most strongly."
He also wrote that the Indian did not have"war-dances, nor does he drink Kaffir beer". When Durban was hit by a plague in 1905, Gandhi wrote that the problem would persist as long as Indians and Africans were being "herded together indiscriminately at the hospital".
Shortcomings of Literature
It has even been stated by Gandhi’s grandson Rajmohan Gandhi that his"struggle for Indian rights in South Africa paved the way for the struggle of black rights" (Gandhi, 2008). Although, in the literature that many of us have read or in the recollections of teachings about Gandhi the narrative about him is much different. It is important to know, that Gandhi wanted in on the Apartheid in South Africa? Why is this totally erased from what is taught about Gandhi in school? I remember learning of him during history lessons throughout secondary school and I only knew him to be a peaceful man who went around doing good. So I ask, why are the majority of school history curriculum designed pull the wall over black peoples eyes? Why is the history of every region taught, except from that of Africa? Don’t believe me, why not actually take a look at the National Gov.UK history curriculums here KS 1&2 KS3. I promise you will see NO mention of this. Or Congo, or Nigeria, or Ethiopia, or Moorish Spain. Actually you will find that once a student gets to Key stage 4, history is no longer a core or optional subject anyway unless they are taking eBACC, view this here . The most popular textbooks used in or quoted by schools are the following:
Literature is widely quiet about Gandhi's time in the southern part of Africa. Gandhi was inciting hatred against Black Africans in attempt to uplift his own people and dominantly rule over black people, with white people? Let that sink in. His grandson writes: “the father of modern India who overcame an empire with nonviolence” and “aimed at moral perfection in his own life” (Gandhi, 2008: p.11). This is inherently biased as the person writing this text is directly related to Mahatmar Gandhi but, there is what feels like a deliberate sweeping over of the nothing but evil plans he had for black people.
Moreover, it is apparent that literature attempts to spring clean Gandhi's image, and there is an entire narrative that is missing. In his biography who is written by his grandson Rajmohan Gandhi, he mentions that Martin Luther King Jr wrote of Gandhi in 1958 and referred to him as the “the first person in history to take the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale”. He then went on to state that the civil rights movement continued to to “recall the inspiration they drew from Gandhi’s struggles” (Gandhi, 2008: p.10). I am not discrediting the movement’s impact on the liberation of the Indian people , but my thing is you clearly cannot acknowledge this part without acknowledging the other. His campaign for Indian rights was at the expense of Black South Africans. Similarly Merton and Kurlansky revisited Gandhi’s writings on non violence and wrote “only Gandhi represents a completely different way of pursuing political objectives” (Gandhi, 1965)... really? The humanitarian front is the exact same one that you can find in leaders like Leopold II, he was a known humanitarian for many years of his life but it did not stop him from murdering millions of black Africans in Congo, Gandhi of course is not on that same level, but subjecting black people to a life of racial discrimination, segregation and oppression by deliberately trying to collaborate with the white people that are trying to oppress them is as good as killing them. You are killing their souls.
I have seen much talk of black people rejecting the terms 'POC' and 'BAME', because grouping black people together with other ethnic minorities does not properly describe us, i.e. our features, our cultures and our social experiences. When I look at the evidence of Gandhi's racism, learning he had truly wanted an alliance with white supremacist leaders and for Indians to be recognised as above black people... it leads me to think there is no need to categorise all “people of colour” together today. Why? Well because the core sentimental values of certain cultures, like Indian for example, rejects grouping themselves together as 'people of colour' alongside black people.
The University of Ghana actually had a statue of Gandhi up in their campus. It was removed by University of Ghana officials , following criticism from students and staff who said he was racist to black Africans, referring to his time in South Africa. The outrage led to petitions and hashtags such as #GandhiMustFall . Many expressed their outrage on social media and quite quickly the situation became viral. Funnily enough, it was gifted by the Indian government (the president of India) to Ghana on an official visit. Obadele Kambon, a research coordinator of language literature and drama at the university of Ghana spoke to @Aljazeera in 2019. He stated that after investigating how the statue actually got there, they had found that India was going around the world putting up statues of Gandhi. It’s disappointing that African leaders allowed that to happen, there are no statues of African historical leaders in India I’m sure.
Along with what is currently happening in the world, I was pleased to hear of Gandhi's statues being removed from the university of Ghana and also the removal of Edward Colston's statue from Bristol, and the damaging of statues of Leopold II in Brussels. Anyone else across the world who is part of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, I would like to encourage you to continue to share petitions to have more statues like this removed and also take a stand to show others, that no glorification of racism or slavery will be tolerated by us :)
I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog post, it is quite lengthy but hopefully you learned something new! Do not forget to subscribe to our website by clicking here
Here is a link to the thread on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ssozinha__/status/1270769218863185922?s=20
Gandhi, R., (2008).'Gandhi: The man, his people, and the empire'. Univ of California Press. online doc
Gandhi, M. and Gandhi, M., (1965).'Gandhi on non-violence'. New Directions Publishing. Edited by Thomas Merton and Mark Kurlansky online doc
Was Mahatma Gandhi racist? | The Stream - Al Jazeera (2019) watch here
Biswas, S., (2015) 'Was Mahatma Gandhi a racist?' - BBC read here
Desai, A. and Vahed, G., (2015).'The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire'. Stanford University Press.
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