ARTICLES > MYTHS > Gandhi and the black people of South Africa
Gandhi And The Black People Of South Africa
By James D. Hunt
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 triple segregation.
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.