The South African period of Gandhi's life continues to be the least explored and the least understood. Even Judith Brown's fine new study, Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope, published by Yale, is of little help in this regard. Yet more than ever it demands analysis, especially as recent events call for a deeper understanding of the various populations of South Africa.
A particularly vexing question has been the relationship between Gandhi and the Black people. Did he restrict his efforts strictly toward the betterment of the Indians? Could he have achieved more by working in cooperation with the other oppressed populations of the country? Was he even aware of the strivings, the leaders, and the organizations of the Blacks? If he was, why did he not attempt to work with them toward common goals?
Many scholars have looked at this relationship and found it unsatisfactory. Les Switzer, an expatriate South African who is an authority on the Black press in that country, wrote in 1986,
Men of the moral and intellectual stature of Solomon Plaatje, John Dube, John Tengo Jabavu, Walter Rubusana and Abdul Abdurrahman, to name but a few, exercised, if anything, a more profound influence in the history of resistance in this period than did Gandhi. Did the Mahatma have links with any of these Black leaders or with any of the political, economic and cultural organizations being developed by Blacks during this period? The record suggests that he did not.
There is no record in the Mahatma's published remembrances or in the pages of Indian Opinion during this period to suggest that Gandhi saw passive resistance as anything other than an instrument of protest on behalf of the Indian in South Africa.
These statements are an interesting mixture of fact and fiction. It is quite true that Gandhi confined his efforts to his own Indian community in South Africa and never formed a common front with Black leaders or Black organizations. He consistently sought a special position for his people which would be separated from and superior to that of the Blacks. However he was not ignorant of these organizations or their leaders, nor is it evident that a common front could have been formed in that country in the first decades of this century.
This paper will examine the relations between the various non-White groups, to see what light this may throw on Gandhi's behavior.
The Non-Whites In South Africa
South Africa was a typical European agricultural colony until late in the 19th century when its fabulous mineral wealth was discovered, first diamonds and then gold. By that time the native Black peoples had been subdued by military force, and a small modernizing elite had begun to emerge among them. Economically these were of the petty bourgeoisie, small landholders, a few teachers and small businessmen. They were often educated in the mission schools and accepted Christianity. They valued self-help, personal advancement, and the advantages of education. Several went abroad for higher education, to England or the United States. Their political hopes were for assimilation into the modern European society, in accordance with Cecil Rhodes's slogan, `equal rights for all civilized men'. They grounded these hopes in Christianity, in the moral rhetoric of the British Empire and in the law of the Cape Colony, where non-Whites had the vote. For this purpose they formed a number of political organizations in the late nineteenth century, most of a local or regional character.
Similar small modernizing elites emerged also in the other major non-White populations: the Coloured people and the Indians. Gandhi was already a member of this class when he came to Africa, having gone to school in England, and then becoming an advocate of the English lifestyle for his people. For example, except for his first year, he never lived in the Indian section of town.
The development of non-White political organizations was greatly stimulated by the South African War of 1899-1902 and its aftermath. British complaints against the Boers had included criticism of their racial policies, so that Africans, Indians, and Coloured alike expected a more liberal policy to be established after the war. However the peace treaty of 1902 deferred "the question of granting the franchise to natives" until the introduction of self-government. By this decision the British abandoned any effort to extend to the conquered territories the Cape system of limited political rights for Africans, and turned the fate of the non-Whites over to the settler populations.
The second event that galvanized non-White political activity was the movement for South African Union, resulting in the Union Bill of 1909 which left the franchise to the separate provinces, so that the other three provinces could refuse the Cape system of non-White voting. The bill also limited the parliament to Whites. In the interval between 1902 and 1909 the basis for modern South African racial politics was established, but within this structure of events, each of the three groups moved on a different agenda.
The Indian People
Let us look first at the Indians. They had come to Africa as a result of the expansion of the British Empire, and they occupied an ambiguous position. They were among the exploited and among the exploiters. Most were very poor, having come as indentured laborers under a brutal system that was very close to slavery. When their terms of indenture expired, many stayed on as laborers or small farmers. A smaller but more prominent group of Indians came voluntarily to engage in trade. They opened up shops and warehouses and some of them were quite rich. It was a member of this class who engaged attorney Gandhi to come to South Africa on a temporary assignment in 1893. There also existed a very small modernizing Indian middle class, largely Christian, which during the next two decades would become increasingly influential.
The political mobilization of the Indians came as a response to an attack on their voting rights. In Natal nearly 400 Indians with property had the vote, but as soon as self-government was granted to the settlers in 1893, efforts were begun to strike off these voters. The Franchise Amendment Bill of 1896 prohibited any Indians from registering in the future, while allowing those already on the rolls to remain. In a few years this eliminated the Indian vote entirely. It was this threat that caused the merchants to ask attorney Gandhi to stay, and around it was established the Natal Indian Congress, the first Indian political organization.
In their petitions against the Natal franchise bill, the Indians, with Gandhi as their spokesman, complained that "the Bill would rank the Indian lower than the rawest Native". In attempting to protect their own position, they believed they had to separate themselves from the native Blacks. They wanted to present themselves, with their long cultural heritage, as among the civilized peoples. In their view, the Blacks were not civilized; they were "raw".
Gandhi's earliest statements about Africans show a great sense of distance from them. Speaking in Bombay after three years in Africa, he told his audience.
Ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire 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.
The statement is a veritable catalogue of racial stereotypes. The
language of "raw Kaffir", degradation, laziness and indecent nakedness was
common parlance among white settlers and Indians alike, and the young Gandhi did not rise above it.
Indians in general had quite a bit of experience with Black
people, but little of it contributed to deep intercultural understanding or laid
a foundation for political cooperation. The leading merchants engaged Black
laborers and rented to Black tenants. The small retail merchants sold trade
goods in small shops and by peddling. Poor Indians lived in the slums side by
side with Blacks. Few of these contacts would have led to close relations with Africans.
Indians frequently complained of being mixed in with Natives in
railway cars, lavatories, pass laws, and in other regulations. They sought a
separation between themselves and the Blacks. One of the first achievements of
the Natal Indian Congress which Gandhi established was the creation of a third
separate entrance to the Durban Post Office. The first was for Whites, but
previously Indians had to share the second with the Blacks. Though they would
have preferred to enter with the Whites, they were satisfied with achieving a
Little is known of Gandhi's personal relations with native
Africans. He employed Zulus for labor at his Phoenix settlement, but later
insisted that the residents do all the labor themselves. A Black squatter family
lived on Tolstoy Farm and did occasional labor, but they were not part of the
community there. When his civil disobedience began Indians were jailed with the
Natives, and Gandhi led protests over being given the Native diet and about
having to share cells with them. He experienced some physical abuse and admitted
fear of more while in prison with them.
Furthermore, Gandhi joined in the bloody suppression of the Zulu
Rebellion in Natal in 1906. Despite his doubts concerning the justice of the
Government's case, he believed that in a crisis Indians should rally to its
defense, and he organized a stretcher-bearer corps to go along with the troops.
In fact he treated Native victims more than whites, but his purpose had been to
suppress the revolt.
We should not take Gandhi's personal sense of distance from the
Blacks as a sufficient explanation for his lack of cooperation with them. He had
a capacity to grow beyond his limitations, and to recognize errors and learn
from them. Psychological factors are only one element in the equation, and
sometimes not the most important. We must look to the situation of the other
players on the field, their interests, and their motivations as well.
in the face of settler determination to establish white rule, all
the non-White groups tried to go over the heads of the colonial governments to
higher imperial powers. In this strategy the most successful were the Indians,
who could appeal both to England and to India. This underscores another fact
about Gandhi's position: his eye was on India. Unlike the Coloured and Blacks
who were unquestionably Africans, the Indians were regarded as unwelcome guests,
and most Indians, including Gandhi, saw India as the real homeland.
In his first 13 years in South Africa, Gandhi was a lawyer for
Indian business interests and a community reformer who tried to raise the
standards of Indian life into a more modern British pattern. He helped form
community organizations including a hospital, and started a newspaper. In his
community defense work he was preoccupied with relations with the British, who
were the dominant power and from whom Indians hoped to gain relief from some of
the forms of discrimination which limited their economic and other
possibilities. He had no need for an outreach to other population groups until
1906, when he challenged the government with passive resistance against a
registration act which applied only to Asiatics.
The Chinese People
[This section is greatly abridged.]
When Gandhi found an ally during his passive resistance campaign,
it came by accident, and was neither with the Blacks nor the Coloured; it was
with the Chinese. There were about a thousand Chinese laborers and businessmen
in the Transvaal Colony when Gandhi began his passive resistance in 1906. Most
of them were in Johannesburg, especially in small trades such as laundry and groceries.
The free Chinese fell under the Asiatic registration act which was
the target of the Indian passive resistance campaign. Like the Indians they
boycotted the permit offices and refused to register. They also were arrested,
refused fines, and went to jail, continuing to do so right up to the end of the campaign in 1911.
Gandhi had not sought a Chinese alliance. As he confessed at a
joint meeting with them in December 1907, he had been trying to draw a line
between British subjects and others--his Johannesburg organization was named the
British Indian Association--, and he had been pleading that "there should be a
discrimination between British subjects and other Asiatics".
The political basis of the alliance, however, was mutual
self-interest: both Chinese and Indians were required to re-register under the
Transvaal Asiatic Law, and were included together in other anti-Asiatic legislation.
The Coloured People
Among non-White peoples, the second largest was the Coloured
community, 89% of whom lived in the Cape Colony. Generally thought of as a
mixed-race group, it was so loosely defined as to include some Indians, Malays
and native Africans. Like the Indians, the Coloured are neither Black nor White,
and their intermediate position generated fears of being reduced to the status
of the Blacks. They had one great legal advantage. In the Cape they possessed
the franchise, limited though it was by literacy and property qualifications so
that only 3.7% of the population could vote. Their nearly 15,000 voters were
concentrated in a few constituencies, including District Six of Cape Town, which
in 1902 elected Dr. Abdullah Abdurrahman (1872-1940), a British-trained
physician, to the City Council, a post which he held (with one brief exception)
until his death in 1940. He was the first non-White elected to that body. A few
years later he was elected to the Cape Provincial Council and held that seat
also for over 30 years.
Coloured leaders in Cape Town established the African Political
Organization (APO) in September 1902. Like most community organizations of the
time, the APO represented the educated elite. Its aims included the protection
of civil rights, the advancement of the group with a special emphasis on
education, the promotion of unity between the coloured races, and voter
registration. In 1905 they chose Dr. Abdurrahman as President, and he held this
post also for the rest of his life.
The initial efforts of the APO were directed to two issues: a
threat of forced removal from Cape Town, and the hope of extending the municipal
franchise for Coloured to the Transvaal Colony. The first was easily settled,
for the Mayor of Cape Town assured them that the proposed locations were to be
established for Blacks and not for Coloured. The form of this settlement was an
omen of the difficulties of racial unity. With their own housing thus
precariously protected, they did not mount a campaign to preserve housing for
the Blacks amongst them. The APO had hoped to be an organization for all
non-White Africans, but its membership and its interests were for the protection
of the Coloured community first.
The campaign for the extension of the Coloured franchise to the
Transvaal was a failure, but Gandhi attended some of their meetings and met the
Coloured leaders including Dr. Abdurrahman. Soon afterwards Gandhi made some
observations on the difficulties of cooperation between the two groups:
This Association of Coloured People does not include Indians who
have always kept aloof from that body. We believe that the Indian community
has been wise in doing so. For, though the hardships suffered by those people
and the Indians are almost of the same kind, the remedies are not identical.
It is therefore proper that the two should fight out their cases, each in
their own appropriate way. We can cite the Proclamation of 1857 in our favour,
which the Coloured people cannot. They can use the powerful argument that they
are the children of the soil. They can also argue that their way of life is
entirely European. We can petition the Secretary of State for India, whereas
they cannot. They belong largely to the Christian community and can therefore
avail themselves of the help of their priests. Such help is not available to us.
Dr. Abdurrahman, unlike Gandhi, reached out to the other oppressed
communities. He attended the South African Native Congress in 1907 and supported
the South African Native Convention in 1909, and aided individual African
leaders such as Rev. Walter Rubusana and John Tengo Jabavu. He publicized the
Indian passive resistance struggle in his newspaper The APO, and to help
them he collected an Indian Passive Resistance Fund.
In 1909, when representatives of all races were in London as the
South Africa Union Bill was being debated in Parliament, Abdurrahman and Gandhi
were in close communication, though their aims were different. Abdurrahman,
along with Black leaders and some liberal White politicians from the Cape,
struggled unsuccessfully to remove the clause restricting the new Union
Parliament to Whites, but Gandhi saw no benefit for the Indians in such an
effort. For all that, Gandhi was in the Strangers' Gallery of the House of Lords
the night the South African Bill was under debate, along with Abdurrahman,
Schreiner and Jabavu. After the failure to alter the Act, Gandhi recommended
that Abdurrahman take up passive resistance and invited him to lunch to talk it
over. He promised to get him a copy of Thoreau's essay on Civil Disobedience. A
few weeks later Abdurrahman suggested in his newspaper that the Coloured adopt
the Indian strategy of passive resistance, and Gandhi wrote an article for The APO.
But that organization never moved into mass action. The teachers
and small businessmen of the APO preferred the political methods of a parliamentary party.
Gandhi stayed closer in touch with Abdurrahman than with any other
leader. Indian Opinion frequently reprinted news from The APO, and
they corresponded on issues of mutual concern.
Despite Abdurrahman's interest in cooperation among nonwhite
racial groups, few opportunities for effective work seemed to emerge. The chief
issues before the Coloured community were not those which the Indians faced. The
Indians had a very small group of enfranchised people at the municipal level in
Natal but none in the Transvaal and it was never made a plank in their campaign.
Most of the pressing issues for the Coloured were in the Cape, while the Indians
struggled in Natal and the Transvaal. Thus a broad alliance between Indians and
Coloured was never much of a possibility. While Abdurrahman was interested in it
and Gandhi was not, the real difference was not in their personal attitudes but
in their constituencies.
Abdurrahman's power base was his position as the only nonwhite
elected official on the city and provincial councils for about 35 years. The
Coloured and Black vote gave him domination of District Six of the city. With
his position on the councils assured, Abdurrahman would benefit in terms of
increased influence by representing the interests of Indians and Africans as well.
Gandhi, on the other hand, was struggling to lead a voteless
people in a campaign of intentional lawbreaking. The issues of that campaign
were of concern only to Indians (and the Chinese). He would not have
strengthened his support among Indians if he took on issues pertinent to other
groups, and he did not believe that he could lead a passive resistance campaign
for other groups; each had to work out their own efforts.
The Black People
Now let us look at the Black population. Then as now, it was
larger than all the others combined, amounting to 67% of the total. Most of the
Blacks lived in the countryside following a traditional way of life, but a class
of progressive farmers was also forming. Many of these had become Christians and
had some education from missionaries. In the towns many Blacks worked as
laborers. There also a small class of Black professionals was beginning to
emerge. These included newspaper editors, lawyers, and teachers.
The oldest form of African political organization was by tribes,
and while the chiefs and royal families continued to be influential, in the
towns the new mission-educated spokesmen were evident, particularly in the Cape
colony. Among the prominent modern leaders of the early period were John Tengo
Jabavu (1859-1921) and Rev. Walter Rubusana (1858-1936). A second generation of
young leaders, some educated abroad, emerged after the South African War.
Prominent among these were Solomon Plaatje (1878-1932), John L. Dube
(1871-1946), Pixley Seme (c.1880-1951) and Alfred Mangena (1879- ? ). Most of
these participated in the formation of the African National Congress in 1912.
In his memoirs, written a decade after leaving South Africa,
Gandhi described the Blacks completely in terms of their traditional rural life,
and made no reference to educated Africans or to any African individuals. This
might suggest that he did not know of any, but his newspaper Indian
Opinion shows that he was very much aware of them.
Among the issues which concerned the Black population in their
dealings with Whites were access to land, voting rights, and education. The pass
laws and the rigid segregation of public facilities were constant irritants.
Voting rights were an issue as well. In Natal Africans could vote, but so
stringent were the restrictions that only two persons had qualified by 1903. In
the Cape, the African vote was a significant factor in parliamentary elections,
and the Rev. Walter Rubusana was once elected to the Provincial Council.
The voting issue both united and divided the non-Whites. In the
Cape the Africans and Coloured shared an interest in maintaining the vote and in
its extension to the conquered northern colonies. Consequently there were
meetings between the leaders on this subject. The Indians, who were very few in
the Cape, did not have much hope for gaining the franchise elsewhere. Gandhi
never included the franchise in his goals for passive resistance. He took the
position that Indians should accept White dominance. Thus there was no
opportunity for common action on the franchise.
The land issue also affected Blacks and Indians differently. For
the Blacks, the 1913 Natives' Land Act was a major disaster, restricting them to
only a small portion of the land. It was in opposition to this act that Blacks
from all parts of the country united in 1912 to form the South African Native
National Congress (later renamed the African National Congress). Though Gandhi
protested its injustice, Indians were not themselves touched by it, and there
was no basis for common action. In Natal, where over 80% of the Indians lived,
they could buy rural land. In the Transvaal, where the passive resistance
campaign was conducted, they could not. But there the Indians were overwhelming
urban, and they were allowed to buy land in the locations established
exclusively for Indians. Both races were restricted, both found the restrictions
an economic threat, but each was under a different law.
The closest approach to cooperation among Indians, Blacks, and
Coloured came at the time of the movement for South African Union. At this time
the Coloured and Africans united in an attempt to amend the Union Bill. Gandhi
did not participate.
The Transvaal Native Congress instructed the young African
attorneys in London, Pixley Seme and Alfred Mangena, to work with the arriving
delegations, including Gandhi's. Gandhi is known to have communicated with
Abdurrahman in London, but no record has yet been found of his communicating
with the Black delegates.
The one African leader with whom Gandhi and his associates are
known to have had some close contact was his neighbor at Phoenix, John L. Dube,
the first President of the South African Native National Congress (ANC).
Although Les Switzer has written, "Even a man like Dube was apparently unknown
to Gandhi," there is ample evidence that the two were acquainted. Dube, educated
at Oberlin College in Ohio, was like Gandhi an admirer of the industrial school
of Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee Institute, and established his own school in
1901, the Ohlange Institute. It was the first African-controlled industrial
school in South Africa. Two years later, Gandhi established his own rural
settlement at Phoenix, only a mile or two from Ohlange. Dube began a Zulu
newspaper, Ilanga Lase Natal (Light of Natal) in 1903, printing the first
copies at the International Printing Press, controlled by Gandhi, which also
printed Indian Opinion when it was launched a year later.
Gandhi introduced Dube to readers of Indian Opinion. "This
Mr. Dube is a Negro of whom one should know," he told his Gujarati readers."
There were visits between residents of Phoenix and Ohlange, When Dube, "our
friend and neighbor", was chosen first president of the Inter-State Native
Congress (later the ANC), Indian Opinion not only noted the event but
published portions of his manifesto.
There is also evidence that Dube respected Gandhi. When Gandhi's
active "passive resistance" began in Johannesburg, Dube praised it in Ilanga,
and when Gandhi brought to South Africa his political mentor
Gopal Krishna Gokhale, a member of the Viceroy's Council, he was taken to
Ohlange Institute to meet Dube, where they "spent some time discussing the
Native question". Dube reported on the meeting in Ilanga, telling his
readers that "We have seen and heard a great man whose knowledge is equal to
that of the foremost statesmen of our day, and he is a black man."
After the conclusion of the l913 campaign, Dube was visited by the
Rev. W. W. Pearson, who had come from India with Rev. Charles F. Andrews to help
Gandhi with the settlement of the dispute. Pearson visited Ohlange Institute in
January 1914, accompanied by an adult resident of Phoenix, Raojibhai Patel, who
recorded the conversation in his memoirs.
Pearson urged John Dube to take up passive resistance, and Dube replied,
Yes, Mr. Pearson, I understand what you say. I have thought
about it a great deal. I have closely studied the struggle of the Indians
under Mr. Gandhi's leadership. My eyes have seen many incidents of
fearlessness in the course of passive resistance.
Mr. Pearson, we cannot do what the Indians have done. We do not
have that divine power. I have been wonderstruck to see their capacity for self-suffering.
Dube then related that he had observed striking Indians near
Phoenix standing their ground despite whips, bayonets, and shooting, and he concluded,
Mr. Pearson, if I lead my people along this dangerous path, we
shall be destroyed. The Indian labourers may be illiterate, uneducated,
ignorant and uncultured, but they come from an ancient culture. That culture
is in their blood. A leader like Mr. Gandhi could awaken their latent
divinity, their capacity to follow that ancient culture and undergo
self-suffering. The inherent divinity in men was activized by Mr. Gandhi in
the case of the Indians and they could demonstrate an extraordinary capacity
for self-suffering. Our Negro people will not be able to control their tempers
in a similar situation. They will hit back in self-defence and that is all the
excuse the whites need to wipe us out. If my people kill one white man in
their excitement, thousands of my countrymen will be killed with machine-guns
and we shall be ruined, totally destroyed. No, Mr. Pearson, we do not have the
capacity to take up a passive resistance struggle. The Indians alone are capable of it.
No doubt Dube's speech has been somewhat altered in Patel's
recollections, but it has a ring of authenticity. Dube, whose school was
receiving government funds, was a cautious man who knew well the hostile
environment in which he lived. The story shows his careful observation of the
Indian struggle and his awareness of the philosophy behind it.
The press, both White and Black, took notice of Gandhi's passive
resistance from the moment of its inception, and frequently speculated on its
adoption by the Natives.
Gandhi argued that the adoption of Satyagraha by Blacks would
would be beneficial to Whites and Blacks alike. In an interview to The Natal
Mercury in 1909, he said,
If the natives were to adopt our methods, and replace physical
violence by passive resistance, it would be a positive gain for South Africa.
Passive resisters, when they are in the wrong, do mischief only to themselves.
When they are right, they succeed in spite of any odds.
In an address to a White audience in a suburb of Johannesburg
later that year, he repeated the theme:
Nor could such a weapon, if used by the Natives, do the
slightest harm. On the contrary, if the Natives could rise so high as to
understand and utilize this force, there would probably be no native question
left to be solved.
However, no African satyagraha took place, nor was there any
parallel uprising among Africans. Or is that entirely true? In July 1913, after
the Orange Free State decided that Black women should carry passes, about 600
women gathered and handed a bag of passes to the authorities. They were
imprisoned, and after the campaign was carried on for some years the authorities
were forced to withdraw the pass law for women. In 1919 the SANNC (ANC)
organized a passive resistance campaign on the Rand (the mining region) in which
thousands of passes were handed in and over 700 Africans were jailed. Were these
inspired by Gandhi's ideas or his example? I do not yet know. Certainly the
great defiance campaign of 1952, led in part by Gandhi's son Manilal, was.
How are we to evaluate this inability of Gandhi to work in
cooperation with Black people?
The Indians, Coloured and Africans were often fighting their
battles in different colonies, against different laws, and on the basis of
different cultural foundations. The Coloured achieved the first effective
political organization, the Indians launched an unconventional passive
resistance struggle, and the Blacks, with a larger and more heterogeneous
population, were finally forced into unity by the Land Act. The separatist and
ethnocentric views of Gandhi and the Indians were often matched by leaders in
the other groups; none seems to have been as inclusive in perspective as Dr.
Abdurrahman. With the qualified exception of Abdurrahmman, it seems doubtful
that a common strategy was an alternative seriously entertained by any non-White group.
Gandhi began as a very conventional Victorian Indian, seeking
accomodation and personal success within the British Empire. He shared the
prejudices of his class concerning Black people, and his lifestyle and work kept
him isolated from them. In this respect he became a segregationist, albeit a
liberal one, arguing for a special status for his own people while objecting to
the treatment given the Black Africans.
Gandhi also exhibited class limitations within the Indian
community. Recent studies such as Swan's have demonstrated the inability of
Gandhi to recognize the needs of indentured Indians or to offer leadership to
the mass of Indians until the very end of his South African career.
None of these should be surprising, except for the tendency to
wish that our heroes would have been consistently heroic throughout their lives.
Gandhi began as a perfectly ordinary intelligent lawyer trying to establish a
career. In time he transformed himself into something else. It is that
transformation which should interest us. He did fail to change South Africa very
much, but in the attempt he learned a great deal, grew in personal stature, and
left behind a legacy of resistance to injustice.
What he accomplished above all was to develop the concept of a
mass non-violent struggle, and to practice several forms of it enough so that he
had the authority to attempt other variations in India.
It seems clear that he learned much from his South African
experience. When he entered national politics in India, he did what he had not
done in Africa. He built a coalition of alliances with many distinct groups.
Judith Brown has detailed the process in Gandhi's Rise to Power. Among
the groups he sought out was one with which he had had mixed success in Africa,
the Muslims. In India he deliberately adopted Muslim political concerns: the
Khilafat and the detention of the Ali brothers. He began to break out of the
isolation he had fostered in Africa.
It is also true that he retained to the end some of the
limitations of his original position. As he drove deeper into the philosophical
foundations of Satyagraha, he emphasized the need for Indian cultural roots,
which had a strong Hindu flavor. Thus he moved away from the modernizing English
cultural ideal which he previously had shared with African and Coloured
professionals, and he also moved away from his Muslim merchant hosts (who were
simultaneously moving away from him because of the material costs of his
campaign, as Swan has shown). Decades later, his use of Hindu symbols such as
"Ramraj" was said to have widened the gap between Hindus and Muslims within the
nationalist movement. Despite his inclusive intentions, the cultural and
religious forms of his politics could not satisfy everyone.
Finally, underlying Gandhi's disinclination to seek effective
allies in South Africa was something else: the belief that allies were not
really necessary, nor even helpful. Instead of enlisting the support of 440,000
Coloured people and 3.4 million Blacks, Gandhi chose to begin his final, and
amazingly successful, campaign with 4 women and 12 men. They were the fruit of
his intensive training at Tolstoy Farm and Phoenix. Satyagraha, he believed,
depended on committed individuals, not on great numbers. A few people who
understood it, and who had prepared themselves physically and spiritually, could
resist any power or any government.
If the South African Blacks learned that, he believed they could
not fail. The demonstration of satyagraha was the greatest gift he had to offer
to both the Indian and the Black people of South Africa.
MARCH 17, 1990
Courtesy : http://www.anc.org.za/
Official website of African National Congress. South Africa.