Gandhi found that the white men who ruled South Africa were passing a law to take away more of the Indians' rights. Already, most Indians were forbidden to own homes or businesses. The new law would force them to be finger-printed like criminals and to carry identification cards.
A huge crowd of Indians gathered in Johannesburg to decide what to do. Gandhi had called them together, but he didn't know what to tell them. He only knew it was better to die than to live with such a terrible law.
Then, while he stood before that angry crowd, a plan came to him. He remembered his hard night in the freezing railroad station at Maritzburg, when he had been thrown off the train because of the color of his skin. That night he was as angry as he had ever been. Yet he controlled his anger and he didn't fight back. Violence never makes anything better, he said to himself. That is my answer. So now he stood in front of the angry Indians and he told them his plan.
Refuse, Gandhi said. 'Refuse to obey the terrible laws and accept any punishment without violence. Don't fight back. But never give up. Never give up until we are treated fairly and equally by the law.
As Gandhi finished speaking, every man and every woman stood up. With a thousand voices, the enormous crowd spoke to Gandhi. "We refuse to obey these laws, they said. We will work together without violence, even if we are punished by death."
Gandhi called his plan "civil disobedience." He meant that the Indians would disobey the unfair laws in a sincere, calm, and respectful way. If they were hit or hurt or put in prison, they would accept it bravely without hatred or anger.
The movement of civil disobedience spread rapidly across South Africa. This was an entirely new way of fighting. Ordinary people came to Gandhi to help. Many of them were afraid, but their desire to help was stronger than their fear. They became warriors without weapons, filled with courage and determination.
Gandhi realized he needed another name for this new way of fighting against injustice. It wasn't just disobedience. It was much harder. Finally he decided to call it satyagraha, which means "holding on to truth" no matter how terribly you are treated.
"Ahimsa" was another word that was always on Gandhi's lips. It means a special kind of non-violence. Ahimsa is there when all the anger and violence inside us is gone. Our hearts are as clean as the day we were born. Only love is inside.
For eight long years the Indians struggled. Many of them lost jobs and homes. Many went to prison and many were killed. When one Indian died, two more would step forward as non-violent warriors, holding on to truth and returning love for injury.
It was this stubborn fearlessness that finally made the South African government give up. The terrible laws were taken back. It was a tremendous victory.
Gandhi, however, had no time to rest. He had been thinking more and more about India, and how his people were suffering under the British rulers there. After twenty years in South Africa, he needed to go home.