GANDHI IN SOUTH AFRICA
While traveling by train to Pretoria,
Gandhiji experienced his first taste of racial discrimination. Inspite of
carrying first class ticket, he was indiscriminately thrown out of the
train by the authorities on the instigation of a white man.
Gandhiji's reaction was that of `David confronting the Goliath of racial
Instead of fleeing from the seen, Gandhiji stayed back - for 21 years to
fight for rights of the Indians in South Africa. By May 1894, he had
organized the Natal Indian Congress. In 1896, he returned to India and
enlisted support from some prominent Indian leaders. He then returned to
South Africa with 800 free Indians. Their arrival was met with resistance
and an inflamed mob attacked Gandhiji physically. Gandhiji exercised
`self-restraint'. His philosophy of winning the detractors with the
peaceful restraint had begun.
It yielded fruit. Under pressure from the British government the attempt
to disfranchise Indians in South Africa was abandoned.
With the outbreak of the Boer war in 1899, Gandhiji enlisted 1100 Indians
and organized the Indian Ambulance Corps for the British. Inspite of the
Indian support, the Transvaal Asiatic Department continued its anti-Indian
regulations. Gandhiji chose to support the British as he felt, "The
authorities may not always be right but as long as the subjects owe
allegiance to the state, it is their clear duty to...accord their
Gandhiji was now the recognised leader of South Africa's Indian community.
By1901,he returned to India with his family. He travelled extensively in
India and even opened a law office in Bombay. However, South African
Indians refused to part with their crusader of justice.
He had to return to South Africa on the request of the Indian community in
By 1903, Gandhiji had begun to lead a life of considerable discipline and
self-restraint. He changed his dietary habits, he was his own doctor, he
embraced the Gita and he was confronting untouchability. By 1906, after
undergoing many trials and tribulations of self-abnegation and eventually
brahmacharya (celibacy), he had became invincible to face the South
African government. Except God, Gandhiji feared nothing.
Influenced by John Ruskin's preaching of rustic life, Gandhiji organized
Phoenix Farm near Durban. Here he trained disciplined cadres on
non-violent Satyagraha (peaceful self-restraint), involving peaceful
violation of certain laws, mass courting of arrests, occasional hartal,
(suspension of all economic activity for a particular time), spectacular
marches and nurtured an indomitable spirit which would fight repression
In Sept 1906, he organized the first satyagraha campaign in protest
against the proposed Asiatic ordinance directed against Indian immigrants
in Transvaal. While in June 1907, he organized satyagraha against
compulsory registration of Asiatics (The Black Act).
In 1908, Gandhiji had to stand trial for instigating the satyagraha. He
was sentenced to two months in jail (the first time), however after a
compromise with General Smuts he was released. Out of jail he was attacked
for compromising with General Smuts. Unfortunately, Smuts broke the
agreement and Gandhiji had to relaunch his satyagraha.
In 1909, he was sentenced to three months imprisonment in Volkshurst and
Pretoria jails. After being released, he sailed for England to enlist
support for the Indian community.
In 1913, he helped campaign against nullification of marriages not
celebrated according to Christian rights. He also launched his third
satyagraha campaign by leading 2000 Indian miners across the Transvaal
border. By December, he was released unconditionally in hope of a
Gandhiji's ahimsa (non-violence) had triumphed. Victory came to Gandhiji
not when Smuts had no more strength to fight him but when he had no more
heart to fight him. Much later General Smuts declared that men like
Mahatma Gandhi redeem us from a sense of commonplace and futility and are
an inspiration to us not to weary in well doing....'