The Phoenix Settlement and Tolstory Farm
When Gandhi sailed from Bombay in April 1893 he had no idea his experiences in South Africa would set him firmly on the path to his later 'mahatmaship' and uncrowned leadership of the Indian people in their struggle against British imperialism. Through a series of discriminatory incidents, which he came to regard as marking the turning point in his life, the oppression of non-whites in South Africa was brought into focus. His indignation at white South Africans' treatment of him whilst on a trip from Durban to Pretoria spurred him to launch a campaign to awaken the Indians of Pretoria to the need to defend their rights. At a meeting of Indians called by him he explained that by conscious efforts to improve their habits and by learning English, the Indian community could integrate more easily into South African society and strengthen its position. The idea of linking self-improvement with the struggle to win one's rights became fundamental to his approach to civil disobedience.
His powers of leadership coming to the fore, Gandhi was soon thrust at the head of a small-scale mass movement, dedicated to nonviolent agitation. Paralleling the Indian National Congress, he founded the Natal Indian Congress and organised petitions to the Natal Legislature and later to the British Colonial Office. He had a number of partial successes, and these heightened his determination to rid South Africa of discrimination against the Indian community. He was to remain in South Africa, with brief absences, until 1914, during which time he forged the political weapons helaterutilised in the struggle against the British in India.
During these twenty years in South Africa Gandhi transformed himself from a prosperous Anglophile lawyer leading an agitationalmovement through legal channels, to a non-violent activist living a simple communitarian existence with his followers and prepared to sacrifice his life for the causes he believed in. Between 1904 and 1908 he began to give concrete shape to his doctrine of satyagraha which evolved in practice through a number of intermittent civil resistance movements he initiated from 1907 to 1914. Though the limited gains Gandhi realised for the Indian community in South Africa were later nullified by the racialist policies of successive white governments, his satyagraha movements did reveal the effectiveness of organised nonviolent resistance against a more powerful opponent. The courage shown by Gandhi's satyagrahis in the face of repressive governmental action mobilised public opinion to such an extent that the inexperienced South African Government was considerably embarrassed. More importantly, they enabled the Indian community to win a significant moral victory.
"Gandhi was awakened to the nature of his destiny by situations that threatened the quality of his own life," observed Woodcock, "afterwards he devoted himself to defending the quality of the life of others."1 He sought freedom for mankind to live in harmony and dignity.
The Monastic Ideal
A desire to experiment with communal living was already growing within Gandhi when he reached South Africa in 1893. He sought to interest his associates in the idea of establishing some type of small community once his law practice began to flourish. Until he was able to bring his family to South Africa he decided he would invite his workers and companions to live communally with him in his large and furnished house in Natal, but he soon discovered that a number of them took advantage of his generosity. He was not discouraged, and his assiduous reading of Tolstoy's works increased his desire to begin his own community. During his early years in South Africa Gandhi had begun to envisage the type of community best suited to the value system in which he believed. But it was an Order of Trappist monks living at Mariam Hillnear Pinetown, sixteen miles from Durban, that provided him with a functioning example of a micro-community living on the basis of voluntary poverty, self-renunciation and constructivework.
Gandhi had known of the vegetarian Trappists ever since he had read of this band of missionaries in Anna Kingsford's Perfect Way in Diet as a student in London. When he subsequently learnt that several Trappist settlements had been established in South Africa he was keen to contact them. In April 1895 the opportunity arose to visit their monastery at Pinetown. He published an account of the visit in The Vegetarian during the following month. He described the settlement as a quiet little model village; owned on the truest republican principles. The principle of liberty, equality and fraternity is carried out in its entirety. Every man is a brother, every woman a sister.2
The population of the mission included one hundred and twenty monks and sixty sisters, both groups observing strict vows of silence and chastity, and twelve hundred native Africans, mostly children, who impressed Gandhi as being "patterns of simplicity, virtue and gentleness". Everything he saw at the settlement greatly impressed him. The males of the predominantly Zulu population were trained in the various workshops to be blacksmiths, tinsmiths, shoemakers, carpenters and tanners, whilst the girls joined the sisters in ironing, sewing, straw-hat manufacturing and knitting. The community had its own printing press, a flour mill worked by water power and an oil press. Without distinction of race all the men laboured in the fields where many varieties of tropical fruits and vegetables were grown. Efficient management of the workshops and farm enabled the settlement to be almost self-supporting.3
Gandhi was delighted with the pattern of life he saw at the Trappist settlement, later writing that any vegetarian meeting the "noble band" would be filled "with a spirit of love, charity and self- sacrifice". He went on to describe the Trappists as "a living testimony to the triumph of vegetarianism from a spiritual point of view". In the midst of the racism that permeated South African society Gandhi was overjoyed at discovering a multi-racial community devoid of tensions and prejudices. Though almost all were Germans, the Trappists made no attempt to impose their language on the African converts who received instruction in Zulu andEnglish. In the simple surroundings of the mission everyone worked side by side, ate the same food and dressed in similar fashion:
The most prominent feature of the settlement is that you see religion everywhere... I know from personal experience that a visitto the farm ...cannot but produce a lasting holy impression on the mind.... It proves conclusively, to my mind, that a religion appears divine or devilish, according as its professors choose to make it appear.4
The Trappist pattern represented for Gandhi a dynamic and creative fusion of ascetic ideals with the practical concerns of service to and management of the community. In subsequent years he would holdup themodelof the Trappists to his colleagues as an ideal mode of living, and as late as 1934 he recalled the Trappist pattern in defining the community ideal workers for untouchables should try to emulate. His conception of small communities of working men and women voluntarily devoted to self-realisation through the observance of absolute vows and service of the poor, isinmany respects reminiscent of the monastic ideal of the Trappists, and is in the tradition of monastic orders established on the basis of ideas espoused by Christian saints such as Basil, Benedict and Francis.5
Gandhi did not deny the personal value of introspection, meditation and communion with God as means of seeking spiritual enlightenment, but for him the path lay through service:
Man's ultimate aim is the realisation of God and all his activities, social, political, religious, have to be guided by the ultimate aim of the vision of God. The immediate service of all human beings becomes a necessary part of the endeavour, simply because the only way to find God is to see Him in His creation and be one with it. This can only be done by the service of all.6
He argued that a value system based on truth and nonviolence could not be upheld in society and politics unless social workers and politicians accept the monastic ideal of self-renunciation and introduce it into public life.
The association of industriousness with spirituality is by no means unique to the communal pattern of Western monasticism. It is also a salient feature of the ancient Vedic system of education. The tapovan (abode of austerities) of the ancient Indian rishis (teachers) were forest retreats where the teacher and pupil lived a life of austerity and spiritual discipline. The tapovan was the home of the teacher around which his pupils gathered. Life in the tapovan was an expression essentially of the teacher's ideals. The task of the pupil was to assimilate these ideals and the spiritual method of the teacher. Membership of these intimate social groups engendered feelings of belonging and of personal worth in the pupil, which enhanced the atmosphere of learning in the tapovan. An integral part of the pupils' daily regimen included tending the teacher's house and cattle.
Tending the house was training the pupil in self-help, the dignity of labour, of menial service for his teacher and the student-brotherhood. Tending cattle was education through craft as a part of the highest liberal education. The craft selected is the primary industry of India.... The pupils received valuable training in the love of the cow and the industry of rearing cattle and dairy-farming, with all the-other advantages it gave of outdoor life and robust physical exercise... Therefore, the highest education was quite consistent with manual and vocational training to give a practical turn to human nature, and training to deal with objects and the physical environment.7
At the centre of the Vedic system was the concept of yajna. Self-sacrifices as worship were not only the guiding principles of ancient Indian education, expressed by the pupil through the selfless performance of different classes of duties, but were the mainspring of all Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religious thoughts. It is the sacrifice that leads to religion and it is religion that leads to the Absolute, explained R. D. Mookerji in his study of ancient Indian education.8
In the account of his visit to South Africa early in 1914 Charles Freer Andrews, who became one of Gandhi's most intimate friends, saw in the stark simplicity of the Phoenix Settlement an embodiment of the tapovan ideal of Aryavarta :
The simple ashram in the forest: the guru and the chela living their lives apart: themselves close to nature, and living content with nature's simplest gifts.9
Indeed Gandhi's concept of ashramic education did not differ significantly from the Vedic ideal. However, his revaluation of the yajna concept was not limited to sacrifices performed to facilitate personal development, but encompassed all service undertaken in the cause of community and national development. The principles he associated with ashramic life were "rigid simplicity", "perpetual continence", "detachment from the world", "voluntary poverty", and above all else, "formation of character with a view to self-realisation". He insisted that all members of his ashrams enjoy equal status, and he interpreted his position as head of the respective communities in a way comparable to that of the rishi of ancient times in his topavan. He saw himself as the parental head of an extended family rather than the superior of an institution.
Whilst Gandhi derived profound inspiration from his knowledge of Christian monasticism, his appeal to the Indian people lay rooted in a Hindu expression of "this-worldly asceticism". He sought to awaken the masses to their own social, cultural and economic traditions, revalued in a dynamic way and purged of all inequities, as means to redress the oppressive social and economic conditions under which they laboured.
Gandhi was not alone in his attempts to refurbish Hinduism as a vehicle for social progress. A religious renaissance had begun in the nineteenth century, inspired by the teachingsofRamakrishna, a mystic who believed the true path to self-realisation was the service of God in man. He did not live to form a society on this principle, but his belief in the unity of all religions, his denunciation of the love of money, and his work on behalf of the poor, inspired many young men to seek a life of self-renunciation and service.
Ramakrishna's chosen successor was Swami Vivekananda. He organised the disciples of Ramakrishna after the seer's death, shaping them into an ascetic order dedicated to social service. The Ramakrishna Order undertook charitable work, opened schools for untouchables, and worked for the uplift of women. Vivekananda taught that a Hinduism rid of superstition and imbued with asocial conscience, was the key to national rebirth. He sought to awaken a national consciousness, based on a common understanding of the tenets of Hinduism. "I cannot believe in a religion that does not wipe outthe widow's tears or bring a piece of bread to the orphan's mouth", he said.10 Though he was unable to meet Vivekananda, who died in 1902, and read only one of his books, Gandhi's bid to introduce a religious asceticism into politics was certainly in keeping with the spirit of Vivekananda's efforts to activate Hinduism on a national basis. Gandhi later acknowledged that heandtheRamakrishna Order worked essentially in thesame spirit:
Wherever I go the followers of Ramakrishna invite me and I know their blessings are on my work. Ramakrishna Sevashrams (people's service centres) and Hospitals are spread throughout India. There is no such place where their work is not being carried on a small or large scale. Hospitals are opened and the poor are given medicine and treatment... I pray to God to increase such Sevashrams. I hope such people will join them who are pure and who have love for India. Let them do the work inspired with the love of India.11
A secular approach to communal asceticism was the Servants of India Society founded by Gopal Krishna Gokhaleinl905.Gokhale was a graduate of Fergusson College in Poona, a charitable institution run by the Deccan Education Society. He was the most eminent among a group of western-educated moderates who increasingly sought social and political reform during the latter stages of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Gokhale's Society consisted of volunteer workers and intelligentsia living on a subsistence wage, who renounced office-seeking and approached community service as a vocation. Their activities included relief work among famine victims and the poverty- stricken, and the promotion of trade unionism.
During Gandhi's years of struggle in South Africa he forged strong links with Gokhale. Though he was initially sympathetic to the aims and aspirations of the Servants of India Society, Gandhi later questioned the wisdom of their support for Western education and the direction in which it was leading India. In a letter tohiscousinMaganlal in 1901 he lamented Gokhale's involvementwith the Society, which he argued, was "simply an indifferent imitation of the West". By retaining servants, by spending large amounts of money on the maintenance of buildings, and by accepting only English-educated graduates into their midst, the Society, in Gandhi's view, merely compounded the tendency amongst India's elites towards slavish imitation of Western civilisation.12
The Phoenix Settlement
During 1903 a small group of people began to form around Gandhi, people who were to eventually assist him with his plan to establish a co-operative community. He had not been particularly satisfied with an earlier attempt in Durban to live communally with a number of his English and Indian acquaintances, but the experience had notquenched hisdesireto continue experimenting along these lines. At a time when his law practice was flourishing in Johannesburg he forged severallasting friendships with Europeans who shared many of his ideals, and particularly his passion for vegetarianism. He joined a group of Christians and Theosophists called the Seekers' Club, with whom he frequently read the Bhagwad Gita. Unlike the Durban Christians he had met earlier, the group had no desire to convertGandhi to anything. They valued his contribution to their discussions as a Hindu. Indeed he criticised members of the group when their conduct failed to correspond with the Theosophical ideal of brotherhood.
Gandhi's awareness of the difficulties associated with an attempt to live according to high spiritual ideals led him into a period of introspection. He began memorising the Gita in order to assimilate its teachings, but his public activities interrupted his study. Nonetheless, it became for him a "dictionary of conduct" to which he referred daily for solace and guidance. Concepts such as "non-possession" arid "equality" captured his imagination. But with an understanding of these ideas came the realisation that a marked change in his attitudes and the circumstances of his life was necessary if he was to have an opportunity to realise these ideals. In pursuit of a radical change, he allowed his life insurance policy to lapse and notified his brother that in future all of his resources "would be utilised for the benefit of the community".13
The example of the Trappists reaffirmed for Gandhi the need of promoting vegetarianism as a basis for improving the quality of living. He made it a political catchword and tried to alert all communities in South Africa to the dangers inherent in flesh- eating. The commercial farming of fruit and vegetables was largely controlled by Indians, mainly vegetarians, who wanted to ensure a regular supply. Gandhi argued that wholesale adoption of vegetarianism would lead to the decentralisation of society because many more farmers would be required. He claimed that the problem of overcrowding in the cities would be solved and a much larger population could easily be supported. In the account of his visit to the Trappist monastery at Mariann Hill he wrote:
The whole of the Republic, although the soil is very fruitful, remains a desert of dust. And if the gold mines could not be worked fromany cause, thousands of men would be thrown out of employment and literally starved to death. Is there not here a great lesson to be learnt? The flesh-eating habits have really tended to retard theprogress of the community and, indirectly, to create division among the two great communities which ought to be united and work hand in hand.14
Though South Africa was particularly suitable for the practice of vegetarianism Gandhi's propaganda had little impact. White South Africans were generally sceptical of his claims. The whites had little interest in this type ofagriculture, but they resented the success of the Indians. Undeterred, Gandhi called on interested people to start the "patriotic" work of spreading the "gospel" of vegetarianism, and establishing fruit and vegetable farms wherever it was economically viable. He insisted that good ethics be linked to good economics, and that farms begun along these lines become "real centres of vegetarianism".15 Many years of struggle ensued before Gandhi had an opportunity to set up his own settlement, farm and newspaper, but he never forgot the example of Mariann Hill.
In 1903 Gandhi began Indian Opinion as a means to serve and consolidate the Indian community. The succession of meetings and events which culminated in the founding of the Phoenix Settlement began when Madanjit Vyavaharik (co-owner of Indian Opinion, with Gandhi) learnt of an outbreak of plague in the vicinity ofJohannesburg while canvassing subscribers and collecting subscriptions. On two earlier occasions, once in India and again in Durban, Gandhi had revealed his highly developed sense of social responsibility by undertaking sanitary work when plague was feared. Similarly, he and his co-workers plunged into aiding the sick during the Johannesburg outbreak.
Gandhi addressed a scathing letter to the press accusing the Municipality of Johannesburg of negligence and responsibility for the outbreak. The letter, as he recalled later in his autobiography, attracted the attention of three men whose friendship he came to value most highly: Henry Polak, Rev. Joseph Doke and Albert West. West, whom Gandhi had been regularly meeting at his favourite vegetarian restaurant, became alarmed upon reading the letter. He promptly offered to help in nursing the patients, but instead Gandhi convinced him to take charge of the Indian Opinion press at Durban.16
Shortly after establishing himself in Durban, West informed Gandhi of the precarious financial position of the journal. The news disturbed Gandhi but brought his ideas concerning communal living sharply into focus. The night he left Johannesburg to investigate the problem in Durban he was given Ruskin's Unto This Last at the station by Henry Polak, another friend he had met at the same vegetarian restaurant and who also expressed an interest in his work after reading the hostile letter to the press. The dramatic effect Ruskin's book had on Gandhi has been referred to earlier. He determined that "the logical consequence of Unto This Last could only be a kind of agrarian communism".17 Onarrival in Durban he proposed that Indian Opinion be run on a cooperative basis, and that a farm should be purchased to house the press and its staff, each of whom would be given a plot of land on which to live. The workers would receive an advance payment each month and the remainder of the total profits divided amongst them at the end of each year. The workers were also to be given the option of purchasing their plot of land from the cooperative at the actual cost price.18
Gandhi appealed to the workers to join him in "a novel and revolutionary project", which would sharply reduce the cost of publishing Indian Opinion and greatly improve the quality of their lives. "Living under such conditions," said Gandhi, "and amid the beautiful surroundings which have given Natal the name of theGarden Colony, the workers could live a simpler and more natural life, and the ideas of Ruskin and Tolstoy be combined with strict business principles." In an atmosphere of mutual tolerance, dedication and "brotherly combination between the Europeans and the Indian workers" he foresaw the two racial groups having an educative influence on each other. With the possibility of daily working hours being reduced each worker would have the opportunity of becoming his own agriculturist and enjoying the attendant advantages:
The English workers could belie the taunt that the Englishman in South Africa would not cultivate the soil and work with his own hands. He had here all the facilities for such work, without any of the drawbacks. The Indian worker could copy his European brothers, and learn the dignity and utility of healthy recreation as distinguished from constant, slaving toil for miserable gains.19
While West waskeen to participate in Gandhi's idealistic scheme (though he claims a certain amount of wishful thinking encouraged him), the majority of the press workers were unimpressed with the plan. The co-owner, Vyavaharik, was openly hostile to the proposal. He considered it foolish and warned that Indian Opinion would collapse if Gandhi persisted. He did not wait to see the outcome, but relinquished his share of the press to Gandhi as repayment of a financial debt and returned to India. West recalls that "a good many otherwise friendly Indians strongly disapproved of the scheme and were not at all helpful".20
However, they persisted. One hundred acres were purchased in the picturesque valley of the Piezang river, situated two and a half miles from Phoenix station and fourteen miles from Durban, on the North Coastline to Zulu land. The initial investment wasone thousand pounds sterling but by the time the settlement was established it had cost Gandhi five thousand pounds.
Gandhi's decision to retain the name of Phoenix for the settlement reflected the experimental nature of his community work. In reply to a suggestion that the name of the settlement be changed to mirror its Indian orientation and Gandhi's involvement in the work, he indicated his firm belief in the universality of the community experiment at Phoenix.
"I wish that my name is forgotten, and only my work endures. The work will endure only if the name is forgotten ....The word math or ashram has a particularly Hindu connotation and therefore may not be used. "Phoenix" is a very good word which has come to us without any effort on our part. Being an English word, it serves to pay homage to the land in which we live. Moreover, it is neutral. Its significance, as the legend goes, is that the bird Phoenix comes back to life again and again from itsown ashes, i.e., it never dies. The name Phoenix....serves the purpose quite well for we believe that the aims of Phoenix will not vanish even when we are turned to dust.... At present our whole structure and behaviour are those of the bird Phoenix."21
The idea of farming in an isolated area, attending to the press work in their spare time, and all for the small sum of three pounds permonth, was not a particularly attractive proposition for those in search of a comfortable living. West observed that the scheme might never have started if practical matters such as trade union rules and minimum wages had been duly considered. 22 Yet immediate obstacles were overcome, and in response to Gandhi's enthusiasm the nucleus of a small community began to take shape, including West, the machinist, Govindaswami and Gandhi's cousin, Chhaganlal. Gandhi tried to persuade a number of relations and friends who had come from India to join the community, but with little success. With the exception of Maganlal Gandhi (Chhaganlal's brother) those who agreed initially soon returned to a life of business and comfort. Maganlal was to play an important role in the future development of Gandhi's constructive work. "Maganlal Gandhi left his business for good to cast in his lot with me, and by ability, sacrifice and devotion stands foremost among my original co-workers in my ethical experiments", wrote Gandhi. "As a self-taught handicraftsman his place among them is unique."23
During October and November 1904 the transfer from Durban to Phoenix took place. Work on the construction of a shed for the press began when a wealthy philanthropist, Parsee Rustomjee, donated corrugated iron sheets and other building materials. With the aid of some Indian carpenters and masons, who had worked with Gandhi during the Boer War, the press shed was erected within a month. Living and working conditions were verydifficult. "The place, uninhabited and thickly overgrown with grass, was infested with snakes and obviously dangerous to live in."24 All the workers camped out in tents. Though preoccupied with his legal practice in Johannesburg Gandhi stayed and worked with them whenever possible. One of his early suggestions was that mud huts with thatched roofs would be suitable for the settlement, but not surprisingly his colleagues were unenthusiastic and vetoed the idea. No one could match his fervour in such matters. "His bent was naturally towards the ascetic and not towards the aesthetic," recalled Millie Polak, "and it must be admitted that this tendency and his constant practice of the hard and simple life stood him in good stead when he had to endure the discomfort and privation of prison life. He could abjure his followers so to live in times of peace that they might be able to endure hardship in times of struggle."25
Issuing the first number of Indian Opinion from Phoenix proved to be one of the earliest tests of endurance Gandhi and his coworkers faced. A major problem was to remove the printing plant, with its heavy machinery and type, from Durban to Phoenix. The road was rough, and three rivers, over which there were no bridges, had to be negotiated. In true pioneering spirit, using four large farm wagons, with spans of sixteen bullocks each, the task was managed in a day. In keeping with his "new-found gospel of handicraft and manual labour" Gandhi had hoped to work the press with hand-power, but West, with his experience of heavy machinery, insisted on the necessity of a power source. For this purpose an oil-engine was installed, but asan alternative arrangement if it should fail West designed a hand machine with a driving wheel on a strong wooden frame. By means of a handle four persons could operate the printing machine. This contraption (dubbed "The Wheel") soon proved its worth.26
As a further precaution against power failure they reduced the format of Indian Opinion from daily newspaper size to foolscap. Apart from improving the style, in case of emergency single pages could be printed on a small treadle machine. These were timely precautions. When all was in readiness on the first night of production the engine would not start, despite the efforts of West and an engineer. Furthermore, there were too few hands to keep the hand wheel operating, an exercise which was heavy work requiring a number of men working in relays. West was loathe to wake the carpenters sleeping on the press floor, but Gandhi did not hesitate to ask for their assistance. Unhesitatingly they agreed, reviving the spirit of the press workers. West sang a hymn and all vigorously joined in the work throughout the night. In the morning the engine started immediately, to the delight of everyone. For Gandhi the failure of the engine had come as a test of their determination to be self-reliant.27
As a result of his insistence on self-help the paper continued to be published regularly in an atmosphere of co-operation. Later the engine was dispensed with, and for a time two donkeys were utilised to turn the printing wheel. The arrangement did not satisfy Gandhi, and for a few hours on printing day the services of four strong Zulu girls were hired. Every able-bodied mantook his turn at the handle and the paper continued to be "ground out" in the same spirit of that first eventful night.28 When funding from other sources, including Gandhi's law practice, dried up towards the end of 1909, he was determined that Phoenix would continue to publish at least a one-page issue of Indian Opinion and arrange for its distribution. At the same time the domestic situation at Phoenix became strained. Children of gaoled satyagrahis had been billeted there and the responsibility of caring for them placed additional pressure on the settlers. Again Gandhi appealed to his colleagues to treat this period of struggle and hardship as an opportunity to test their spiritual mettle and devotion to service:
It is out of our ignorance that we believe we get our bread because of our efforts. It is best if one realises that he who has given us teeth will also give us food for chewing.... It is the duty of those who have devoted themselves to Phoenix to improve the life there and do their best to develop Indian Opinion; for through Indian Opinion we have been imparting education and doing public good. We need not be disheartened if some of us in Phoenix do not put in their best, waste our resources or are quarrelsome. He who knows better should put in double the effort to make good the deficiency.29
Gandhi's preoccupations with the satyagraha campaign kept him away from the settlement more than he wished. On one occasion he was in London trying to secure some guaranteed status for Indians as part of the negotiations for the unification of South Africa. In his absence the responsibility for rejuvenating the beleaguered community fell to Maganlal Gandhi. As an expression of the spirit of sacrifice necessary to ensure the survival of the settlement, Gandhi asked Maganlal to declare his intention to live and die at Phoenix if necessary even though no one else remained. "The others will catch your spirit, provided it is born of your steadfast mind and not of arrogance", he wrote to Maganlal. "Be quite sure that its echo will definitely be heard."30 It isa measure of the settlers' loyalty to Gandhi and their devotion to the Indian cause that Phoenix and Indian Opinion survived the crisis. "Though Phoenix was never entirely stable," observed Ashe, "it survived as a community and grew more gracious."31
After the press was set up and functioning smoothly the next priority was to provide accommodation for everyone. There was no uniformity of approach to the problem. Each settler chose his own plot and with the assistance of the obliging carpenters erected a building according to personal requirements. Four of the original group, for instance, opted for a flat-roof style of house, which enabled them to sleep out on top when the weather was hot. Unfortunately these constructions could not withstand heavy rain — water leaked under the flat iron sheets and through the wooden ceilings, causing flooding in the rooms and considerable inconvenience for the inhabitants. Notwithstanding the sometimes difficult living conditions the settlers persevered — "The houses soon took on the appearance of a neat little colony". Wild grass was cleared from around the houses, gardens planted and an area levelled to make a courtyard.32
Prabhudas Gandhi (Chhaganlal's son) recalls that his father and uncle (Maganlal) were given four acres of land in three different plots. On the largest plot they built a large square room and nearby, a small room for a kitchen. The rooms had raised wooden floors as a safeguard against damp, rain water and the ubiquitous snakes and mice: "The rooms had proper arrangements for the draining away of rain water and had wide glass windows so that these huts were as airy and convenient as any well-built houses."33 Gandhi's own dwelling quarters consisted of a living-room, two small bedrooms, a tiny kitchen and a shower which had been designed so that the occupant pulled a string and got sprinkled by a watering-can through a hole in the roof. On theroof of the bungalow a simple kind of adjustable windscreen was constructed to shield roof-sleepers from the frequently strong winds. This type of experimentation with simple technologies enriched life in all Gandhi's communities. Another example of the settlers' ingenuity was John Cordes' steam bath. A German who had come to Phoenix from Rhodesia where he had lived for some years, Cordes had great faith in the healing properties of water. He designed a steam cabinet for his place and in conjunction with a cold hip bath and warm towels, "treated" anyone who came to him.34
Over the years the number of settlers swelled gradually. Though Gandhi was rarely there, he housed Kasturba, their sons and a nephew, Gokuldas, at Phoenix for quite long periods. Soon after the press had been set up Gandhi returned to Johannesburg where he informed Polak of all that had occurred under the influenceof Ruskin's UntoThis Last. Polak was excited and asked to join the scheme. Gandhi agreed with pleasure and Polak, after resigning from the Transvaal Critic (of which he had been sub-editor), arrived at Phoenix to assist Herbert Kitchen, an English Theosophist who took over the editorship of Indian Opinion when Mansukhlal Nazar suddenly died. As he had been unimpressed with the Phoenix scheme, Nazar had insisted on maintaining an office in Durban and editing the weekly from there. The new arrangement with Kitchen and Polak living at the settlement and sharing the editorial duties, was more acceptable to everyone. Polak shared West's flat-topped bungalow. The pair of bachelors cooked their own food and shared a simple life together. This early period in their lifelong friendship did not last long, however, for under Gandhi's influence both their living arrangements and bachelor status soon changed. Polak clearly revelled in life at Phoenix and was very popular theredue to his ease and sociability, but Gandhi needed his services at Johannesburg in the law practice. He acquiesced to Gandhi's request, later signing articles with a view to qualifying as an attorney.35
Ever influencing the lives of his closest associates whether friends or relatives, Gandhi persuaded both Polak and West to marry. Polak agreed to marry his fiance of several years, Millie Graham, who arrived in South Africa during December 1905.On the other hand, West had been considering a visit to his home in England. The Zulu "rebellion" (1906) almost disrupted theseplans, but Gandhi insisted he should go and return with a wife if possible. "Phoenix was the common home' wrote Gandhi, "and as we were all supposed to have become farmers, we were not afraid of marriage and its usual consequences."36 West returned engaged to an old friend, Ada Pywell, whom he later married at Phoenix in June 1908, the ceremony taking place in Cordes' bungalow. A little later he was joined by his sister and mother-in-law. The latter was nearly eighty and in poor health when she arrived in South Africa, but the subtropical climate gave her renewed vigour (she lived to be ninety-five). Mrs. Pywell, or "Granny" as she was known to Gandhi and the settlers, helped the women of the settlement with their sewing and knitting and her cheerfulness was a constant source of inspiration. Ada West gave lessons in music and organ playing to students of the nearby Native Institute, and also helped Cordes and Chhaganlal Gandhi to manage the press office.
It seemed as though the Polaks' marriage set a precedent everyone sought to follow. Encouraged by Gandhi, the Indian settlers also sent for their families from India, and Cordes sent for his small son (Willie), who had been born of a negro woman in Rhodesia. "Phoenix thus developed into a little village, half a dozen families having come and settled and begun to increase there."37
During the early South African years Gandhi's ideas concerning celibacy (brahmacharya) had not fully matured. He quite probably considered the marriage of his bachelor friends would have a settling influence upon them, which would in turn stabilise the fledgeling community at Phoenix. In the early stages of their marriage the Polaks became members of the Gandhi "joint family" in Johannesburg, which frequently consisted not only of blood relatives but friends, co-workers, employees and political associates.
Gandhi's attempts to orient life in his household towards simplicity and self-sufficiency had begun in Durban as early as 1897. To reduce expenditure he had washed his own clothes and cut his own hair. In the light of Ruskin's teachings the Johannesburg household was managed on the same principles guiding the Phoenix experiment: manual work, self-help and simple living. A handmill was introduced to grind flour for the preparation of unleavened wholemeal bread, which Gandhi thought "would ensure more simplicity, health and economy". Every morning Gandhi, the Polaks or the children joined in the task of grinding the flour. It was never compulsory work for the children, but Gandhi believed it provided them with beneficial exercise, and fondly recalled their doing the work cheerfully and conscientiously. The children were required to assist the employed servant with his work, and everyone attended to cleaning the lavatory closet. "The result was that none of my sons developed any aversion for scavenger's work," observed Gandhi, "and they naturally got a good grounding in general sanitation."38 The boys were also given the responsibility of nursing anyone who became ill, though this was rare at Johannesburg. Gandhi was convinced that the main aim of education was character-building, and nowhere is the tendency to mould the lives of those closest to him more clearly expressed than in his determination to educate the children according to his own beliefs. Of vital concern both at Phoenix and Tolstoy Farm was the education of the settler's children, and for this reason his educational ideas and experimentation will be examined more closely later in the chapter.
In the years preceding the Zulu rebellion Gandhi was anxious to resolve the paradoxical character of his life-style. The problem centred on how to reconcile the value system embodied in the life of poverty at Phoenix with the career of a successful barrister, public activist and spokesman for the Indian community. Outwardly he lived the settled life of a benevolent and resourceful patriarch, deciding vital questions for his friends and relatives, and generally exercising an extraordinary influence on all who knew him. Not only did he contribute a large proportion of the material published in Indian Opinion, but personally subsidised the weekly from his own substantial earnings (between £4,000 and £5,000 per annum). As the "incongruously conducted paper gained in readership and public esteem" his reputation as a dedicated lawyer and champion of the oppressed Indian community was greatly enhanced. The circle of Westerners under his influence was also widening. Most notable were a German Jewish architect, Hermann Kallenbach, and a Baptist minister, Joseph Doke, both of whom provided invaluable support to Gandhi during the satyagraha struggles in South Africa. Yet, in the midst of all the esteem he attracted as a result of his public activities, inwardly his mind seethed with a moral dilemma: "Thus, with the laudable object of quickly realising the ideals at Phoenix, I seemed to be going deeper and deeper into a contrary current, and had not God not willed otherwise, I should have found myself entrapped in this net spread in the name of simple life."39
After the establishment of Phoenix Gandhi became increasingly preoccupied with the question of translating the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita into action. Intensive study of the Christian gospels and the writings of Maitland and Tolstoy, lengthy discussions with his Theosophist and radical Christian friends, and a renewed faith in Hinduism, had all coalesced to enhance his understanding of the great religious poem. Gandhi expressed a faith in the Gita's ideal of non-possession quite early in his career as a public worker. For instance, in 1901 he decided not to accept a large number of expensive gifts given to him in gratitude for services rendered to clients and the community in South Africa. Though he faced staunch opposition from Kasturba, he argued that acceptance would compromise the ideal of selfless service.40 During a period of spiritual introspection in 1903 an extensive examination of the Gita led him to realise that non-possession meant that those seeking salvation should become like "trustees" of the community. Though they may control great wealth and possessions, ownership must be completely renounced.
One of Gandhi's biographers has claimed that he ruled Indian Opinion and the Phoenix Settlement in an authoritarian fashion; indeed, that he was "like a baronial lord" who left no one with "any illusions about who owned the press and the farm".41 In the light of Gandhi's beliefs this assertion appears untenable. Doubtless he wielded enormous influence over his colleagues by virtue of his charismatic personality and a refined technique of moral persuasion. He also expected those who joined him in working for the community, to live a life of austerity and manual labour, but the suggestion that he flaunted his ownership of everything relating to the Phoenix experiment and dominated his co-workers is not borne out by the available evidence. Notable features of Gandhi's character were his generosity and kindly treatment of people. Moreover, though he strove to cultivate the virtues of nonviolence, celibacy and non-possession, the Gita ideal of samabhava (equability) came naturally to him.42 His enigmatic ability to transcend the narrow confines of social and religious barriers and factional politics appears to stem from this aspect of his personality.
This is not to suggest that Gandhi had no failings, but the writer wishes to highlight the inadequacy of certain emotive criticisms introduced into the narrative of several of his Western biographers, which appear to stem from differing cultural perspectives. Some writers "accuse" him of being domineering and insensitive to the needs of his family, and of obstinately refusing to heed the advice of his friends.43 He did tend to treat his family as a mere extension of his own austere nature. Kasturba and the boys sometimes suffered from his refusal to allow them to express their own individuality. The eldest son, Harilal, particularly believed that his father's attitudes to life and education severely handicapped his own development. The fact remains that repression of individuality is fundamental to the Indian joint family system, and the word of the family head is law. Perhaps it was unfortunate for his wife and sons that Gandhi was such an unusual man, with a penchant for renunciation, spiritual striving and community service. Doubtless his inability to distinguish between his private and public life caused his family considerable anguish. Yet a case could be argued that Gandhi's wife and children did benefit both morally and spiritually from his awareness of the emptiness of materialistic values and that he acted in his sons' best interests by refusing to educate them under a system that would have resulted in their alienation from India's religious and cultural traditions and from the bulk of her populace.
The other point of concern here is Gandhi's domination of the communities he established and the political struggles he inaugurated. Again, certain Western writers have referred to his sometimes overpowering self-righteousness and unshakable belief in the correctness of his own judgment as essentially negative aspects of his character.44 There is evidence to suggest that as a result of this tendency the various causes he served devotedly may have been at times harmed. However, it is important to realise that a charismatic leader attains his authority and consolidates his "legitimacy" by constantly proving his personal strength in life. The initiators of "utopian” movements throughout history have invariably led their followers by virtue of their superior vision and personal example. No doubt there is an inherent weakness in this form of authority. The leader is usually deserted, or his ideas routinised, by his following as his control over them wanes.
The problems associated with this style of leadership have been identified by Max Weber in his essay, 'The Sociology of Charismatic Authority". He distinguishes two aspects of a technique to counter act the harmful effects upon a movement which accompany the waning of such a leader's authority. Firstly, emphasison rational discipline eradicates personal charisma and stratification by status groups. 'Those who obey are not necessarily a simultaneously obedient or an especially large mass, nor are they necessarily united in a specific locality. What is decisive for discipline," argued Weber, "is that the obedience of a plurality of men is rationally uniform."45 Much of the stress Gandhi laid upon self-renunciation and purity of service was perhaps in recognition of the effectiveness of rational discipline. However, it is true that he placed less emphasis on this question in South Africa than later in India, where he was concerned that his followers cultivate rational discipline in their lives.
The second aspect of the technique identified by Weber is that the cultivation of self-discipline in those devoted to a charismatic leader can be utilised to shift that devotion to a common cause or "rationally intended success".46 Gandhi's supporters in South Africa were asked to discipline themselves by adhering to the principles of truth and non-violence in all their dealings with one another and in the successive struggles with the government. Though the rallying point of these struggles was the immediate problems confronting the Indian community, Gandhi encouraged his followers to regard their experience as preparation for the greater struggle that lay ahead in India. The common focus of all his activities in South Africa, whether it be the operation of Indian Opinion, the Phoenix Settlement and Tolstoy Farm, or the satyagraha campaigns, was to refine a technique of action to alleviate the plight of India's poor. In the context of his ultimate objective Gandhi wrote in 1908:
There is an obvious reason why the first duty of the whites and of the Indians living in Phoenix is to serve the Indian community. Indians must, of course, serve India. If instead of doing that anyone were to claim that he was dedicated to the service of mankind as a whole, it would be nothing more than a pretence.... The whites who have joined us were formerlyengaged in their own avocations. There was no need for them to offer their services to the white community. Wishing torenounce their selfish pursuits and devote themselves to the service of others they decided to join the journal.... Those who have chosen to settle in Phoenix wish to educate themselves and to extend the benefits of their education to the entire Indian people.47
Gandhi's asceticism and charismatic authority were thus integral to his envisaged plan to improve the quality of life of his countrymen. He sought to realise the Absolute through service, and all other concerns, family or otherwise, were subordinated to that ultimate goal.
However, prior to 1906 he was concerned that his life-style was not sufficiently in accord with his ideals. The role of urbane barrister and householder had become incompatible with his desire to exercise restraint and self-control in all matters. He recognised that absolute dedication to service would require the harnessing of all his energies and that furthermore, his coworkers would have to exercise similar restraint. "In order to do justice to their mission," wrote Weber, "the holders of charisma, the master as well as his disciples and followers, must stand outside of routine occupations, as well as outside the routine obligations of family life.'"18
In pursuance of the Gita ideal of renouncing "objects of the sense" Gandhi had since 1900 pondered the virtues of brahmacharya ( celibacy), and began a succession of haphazard experiments in this regard.49 He was impressed with the Indian proverb that "as a man eats, so shall he become". He decided to abstain from many types of food, at times living on fruits and nuts alone. Not unlike the early hermetic Christians, he included fasting as a vital element of his ascetic regimen. In his view, however, to realise the Gita ideal, mere abstention was not enough. It was necessary to negate the craving for sustenance altogether. His efforts to subject the body to the discipline of the mind left him close to death on occasion, but he was undeterred:
For the seeker who would live in fear of God and who would see Him face to face, restraint in diet both as to quantity and quality is as essential as restraint in thought and speech.50
When he did fall ill his dislike for medicines and love of simplicity spurred him to seek alternative treatments. His predilection for tending the sick and serving his fellow-man quickened his desire to experiment with simple nature cure remedies that would be accessible to the poorest man. Beginning with himself and his family, he also encouraged the settlers to join him in these self-disciplining experiments and nature cure therapies.51 Yet, despite these measures to reconcile his ascetic ideals with his life as a public activist, Gandhi remained dissatisfied.
1906 marked the turning-point in Gandhi's struggle to resolve the dilemma. Early in that year the killing of a tax collector by a Zulu chieftain (Zululand had been annexed by the British in 1887) had sparked off a succession of violent disturbances. The Natal government mounted a punitive campaign to suppress what it termed the Zulu "rebellion". Still believing in the "benevolence" of the British empire, Gandhi volunteered to form an Indian Ambulance Corps, just as he had done during the Boer War. The brutalities and sufferings he witnessed during the campaign of suppression greatly distressed him. Sympathising with the plight of the Zulus he resolved to devote all his energies to serving humanity. At the same time he decided that he could no longer allow the responsibilities and pleasures of family life to sway his resolve: "In a word, I could not live both after the flesh and the spirit. On the present occasion, for instance, I should not have been able to throw myself into the fray, had my wife been expecting a baby. Without the observance of brahmacharya service of the family would be inconsistent with service of the community. With brahmacharya they would be perfectly consistent."52
On his return to Phoenix — Kasturba and the boys lived there for the duration of the "rebellion", the Johannesburg household having been broken up — he informed Chhaganlal, Maganlal, West and other settlers of his intentionto take afinalvowto observe brahmacharya for life. His reasoning appealed to them, and though they alerted him to the difficulties of the task, several agreed to observe the vow. As usual Kasturba was not consulted, but she complied with his decision without argument. Though initially she may have been sceptical of her husband's motivations, it certainly improved relations between them. No longer so domineering towards her, Gandhi welcomed a new - found independence of thought and action and began to value her support and loyalty.
Gandhi's motives for taking the vow were complex. His intolerant and ill-informed views regarding sexual relationships and his insistence on the 'evil' nature of all sexual responses have been extensively "analysed" by Western writers, most particularly by Erikson. It is difficult to gauge to what extent Gandhi's long struggle to repress his sexuality stemmed from childhood experiences such as his early marriage to Kasturba or the traumatic guilt associated with being absent from his father's deathbed. Perhaps it is suffice to recognise here that self-denial of ordinary pleasures is fundamental to the ascetic mentality as it is expressed in many religious traditions.53
The Hindu idea of seeking God by cultivating the virtues of equability and desirelessness particularly appealed to him. However, it is unusual for a married man to take the vow at the early age at which Gandhi adopted it. He was thirty-seven. His determination to mortify the flesh and the passions, and his belief that dietetic control and fasting are linked to sexual continence, was reminiscent of certain Indian yogic practices and the eremitical practices of early forms of Christian monasticism. In the case of these traditions, however, the privations experienced as a result of extreme forms of abstinence are usually also associated with social renunciation. Yet, the effect of the vow on Gandhi was to heighten his social consciousness in preparation for the struggles that lay ahead. He experienced a spiritual cleansing which broke with the past and became the mainspring for his belief that strict abstinence was an essential discipline for those prepared to sacrifice themselves to the cause of truth and non-violence. In addition to these reasons, another incentive to take the vow was Kasturba's poor health. She had almost died earlier from internal haemorrhage, and although she had undergone a gynaecological operation, performed without anaesthetic because she was too emaciated, she nevertheless remained anaemic. It was feared that another pregnancy would endanger her life.
The early hopes that Phoenix would develop into a health, agricultural and educational centre par excellence were thwarted by a number of factors. Among these were the demands of running the paper, the severe disruptions caused by the political struggle, during which many settlers served terms of imprisonment, and ultimately the departure of Gandhi from South Africa in 1914. Initially everyone had been optimistic that the income derived from Indian Opinion and the produce of the farm would not only be sufficient to support the community but would enable each settler to realise substantial savings, since the profits accruing from the enterprise were to be divided equally. Those who joined the scheme with this intention were soon faced with the harsh realities of Gandhi's concern that service to the Indian community would be the principal aim of the experiment. The salaries of those connected to the journal were fixed according to their needs, which varied, depending on the size of the worker's family and such things as the amount of extra expenditure incurred travelling about the country in the interests of the journal. Gandhi insisted that any extra income earned from the journal or from donations would be spent on public work.
In 1912 the ownership of Phoenix and Indian Opinion was passed from Gandhi to a board of trustees, and the management objectives of the settlement were precisely laid down. It was decided to discontinue job-work and publishing advertisements, as it was felt these practices were inconsistent with thecharitable objectives of Phoenix.54
The time available for the settlers to earn a living from the land was also much reduced. In practice the normal working hours of the majority were devoted to press work. The problem was compounded for those settlers who spent lengthy periods in prison during the satyagraha campaigns. Nevertheless, their gardens were attended to in spare time, which eventually enabled the settlement to be self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables. Though the settlers advised and assisted one another the agricultural experiment remained uneconomical due to a lack of co-ordinated joint farming. Each settler cultivated a separate plot, growing the crops thoughtto be most suitable. Their energies were also diverted into unremunerative work such as the maintenance and extension of houses, and the building of a library and school. Though a builder was contracted to do the brickwork for the school and library, all the timber construction was done by the settlers, including a very high roof. "We did not mind doing the work — it was a pleasure," recalls West, "but while we did carpentry, we were not cultivating the soil.55
Another problem which dampened the spirits of the novice farmers was the high incidence of damage to crops by roaming mules and donkeys. Due to the variable nature of the settlers' incomes the destruction was all the more disheartening. For many years the land remained without proper fencing, but eventually this was resolved by planting protective hedges. Referring to all the unforeseen problems that arose in the course of life at Phoenix, Millie Polak has written:
The ideals and theories that had sounded sorightand reasonable in the study, or read so well in books, had a chance of being put to the test at Phoenix, and, as might be expected, were often found impracticable when applied to the hard facts of life.56
Drinking water shortage, "primitive" sanitary arrangements, fear of snakes and spiders, and dislike of the very simple food and accommodation provided at Phoenix, all played heavily on Millie Polak's mind. She often remonstrated with Gandhi over the imposition of what she believed were unnecessary austerities at Phoenix, and was very relieved when her husband shifted back to Johannesburg. After Kitchen's retirement and departure from Phoenix Polak took over as editor of Indian Opinion, the Rev. Joseph Doke deputising during his absences. Due to his wife's dislike of life at the settlement they continued to share Gandhi's small and sparsely furnished house in Johannesburg (which had replaced the large house given up at the time of the "rebellion"), visiting Phoenix several days a week to complete the editorial work. Mrs. Polak was content with this arrangement. She and Gandhi continued their spirited discussions on wide-ranging issues such as the role of women in society and celibacy in marriage, the upbringing of children, diet and the non-killing of poisonous animals.57
On the whole, however, the majority of settlers were not so disillusioned with life at Phoenix as Mrs. Polak. Friendly relations were enjoyed with the Zulus inhabiting the surrounding hills, who would often call on their way to and from the railway station and sparsely stocked general store (situated close to the station) for a drink of water or to purchase fruit from the settlers. The wife of a Negro squatter living nearby across the river assisted the women with washing and cleaning, and a short distance from Phoenix lived an Indian woman who acted as midwife when thewives of Indian settlers gave birth. West recounts that for the birth of his two children he cycled the fifteen miles to Durban to call an Indian doctor. He and his mother-in-law acted as nurses on both occasions.58
Life at Phoenix was always much enriched when Gandhi was able to spare time away from his legal and political activities to be there. His good humour, love of simplicity, capacity for self- sacrifice and preparedness to serve anyone requiring guidance or assistance, on many occasions inspired men, women and children of otherwise average ability and with no special talents to rise above their "normal mental and moral stature to heights of great sacrifice and bravery".59 Whilst at the settlement Gandhi was continuously active, meeting with the regular stream of visitors to his house or delighting in the performance of simple acts of service, such as cooking meals, doing domestic work, cutting hair, nursing the sick and attending to the needs, whether serious or trivial, of the community children.
Though the school building would have been a suitable meeting-place for the community, Gandhi's large living room remained the centre for social activities. It was the hub of religious life at Phoenix. Evening prayer meetings were held there and every Sunday the community always joined together for what West termed "a united spiritual exercise." Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Parsees and Christians all participated in the "service", which was a blend of religious teachings and spiritual songs from the East and the West. As no particular religion was given a superior position, the service each Sunday reaffirmed the universal bonds of love and truth upon which the community had been founded. Passages from the Bhagavad Gita and the New Testament were read, English hymns were sung, and Gujarati Bhajans (sacred songs) would be chanted by those who knew the language. A small hymn-book, printed and bound at the Phoenix Press, and containing eighteen hymns from many sources, had been specially arranged for the "universal service".60
Perhaps the "finest moment" of Phoenix came in 1913, when the settlers became the mainstay of the third and final satyagraha campaign. The experience confirmed the truth of Gandhi's claim that life at Phoenix was essentially geared to prepare families for the rigours of satyagraha. At the conclusion of the second campaign discipline at Phoenix became extremely severe, andan understanding was reached with all eligible male pupils and their parents that those who chose to remain at the settlement must be prepared to join the struggle.
When the agitation began over the government's action in passing a law ruling all marriages not celebrated according to Christian rites invalid, only one family held aloof. The activities of the Phoenix satyagrahis became the focal point of the struggle. Since it was illegal for Indians to cross from Natal into the Transvaal Gandhi sent a group of sixteen settlers — twelve men and four women, including Kasturba — ostensibly to make their way to Tolstoy Farm (which was in the Transvaal), but in reality to court arrest at the border. With their arrest the struggle was vigorously renewed. Hundreds of volunteers suffered imprisonment, and when the indentured labourers on the sugar estates in Natal decided to strike in sympathy with the satyagrahis, approximately two thousand marched to Phoenix squatting on the ground near the press. This posed a formidable problem for those who remained behind at Phoenix to manage the affairs of the press and community, includinga number of boysunder sixteen years of age.
Despite the ever-present danger of raids by the police, the settlers worked day and night to provide welfare and distribute the food sent from Durban for the striking labourers by the Indian Association. To strengthen discipline among themselves the Phoenix workers decided to observe strict vows until such time as their friends and elders were released. They served the labourers and the families of the satyagrahis without distinction, cooked meals, washed clothes, minded the younger children, and scavenged for all. In reference to their contribution to the satyagraha struggle Gandhi wrote in the Golden Number of Indian Opinion published in 1914:
Although they and the others who managed the affairs of Phoenix stayed out of prison, they did better work than those who went to gaol.... The Indian community can never truly measure the services that the Phoenix workers rendered to it at that time.61
The passing of the Indian Relief Bill by the Union Parliament in June 1913 marked the end of the eight-year-old satyagraha struggle. A little over one year later Gandhi and Kasturbadeparted from South Africa for the last time. The Phoenix settlers had been forewarned of this eventuality as early as in 1912 during the visit of Gokhale, the renowned Indian philanthropist and public activist. He had confided in West his hope of convincing Gandhi to return to India as soon as a settlement of the Indian question in South Africa could be reached. He foresaw Gandhi playing an active role in the national Independence movement. In a farewell speech to indentured Indians at Verulam in Natal, Gandhi assured the meeting that his departure did not mean assistance would no longer be available at Phoenix for those in need. He advised them that Chhaganlal Gandhi and West would continue to render assistance to anyone free of charge. "If Phoenix ever failed them and wanted a farthing from them" said Gandhi, "then they should shun Phoenix."62
West recalled that Gandhi's departure came as a serious blow to the aspirations of those who remained behind at Phoenix. Several of the settlers and Gandhi's sons sailed direct to India where they were accommodated in Rabindranath Tagore’s Shantiniketan ashram and were later joined by- Gandhi and Kasturba during 1915. For three years following the "exodus" of Gandhi and his family from Phoenix West and several other settlers continued to publish Indian Opinion on the terms set down in the Phoenix Trust Deed of 1912. They acted as advisersin matters arising out of the Relief Act, and struggled to maintain the agricultural experiment.
In time it was decided that an attempt to make Phoenix totally self-supporting was necessary as financial help could no longer be accepted from the Passive Resistance Fund. Working day and night for months West and Ragoo Govindoo (known as "Sam" by the settlers) ploughed extra land and planted crops of corn and fruit, attending to the press work for four hours each afternoon. Droughts and floods wreaked havoc on their efforts, destroying crops and rendered the land unworkable for long periods. When acres of bananas and citrus fruits failed it was realised that the soil was infertile; only pineapples flourished in the stony ground. Through correspondence Gandhi confirmed the settlers' opinion that agriculture was unlikely to become economically viable. "If we could adopt the standard of living of a Negro or Indian agriculturalist, live in a hut, and leaving the world aside, and the education of our children, scrape a few handfuls of food from theground, it might be possible, but we could not bring ourselves to do it", observed West.63
It was also decided that the principle of refusing advertisements in Indian Opinion and printing of jobs as a source of income should still be adhered to. In a letter to West during 1917 Gandhi expressed his thoughts concerning the future of Phoenix: "My view is that if you can turn out Indian Opinion only by removing to town, you should suspend publication. I do not like the idea of your competing for jobs or ads. I think that when that time comes we shall have outlived our purpose. I would rather that you sold out Phoenix and you and Sam were engaged in some other independent work. If you can make of Phoenix something without the paper I should like the idea. But if you cannot even eke out a living from agriculture at Phoenix, Phoenix should be sold."
Gandhi was now deeply involved in the Indian Independence Movement, and his thoughts concerning the future of Indian Opinion and Phoenix reflect a hardening of his nationalistic attitudes. In reply to Gandhi's letter West expressed disappointment at the change he detected in Gandhi's approach to the South African situation. West recalled that his own outstanding ideal was to serve as a link between the Indian people and the European. That was the kernel of my ideal. Throughout the various changes at Phoenix I have never lost sight of it. All such questions as food reform, living by means of agriculture etc. were a part of the scheme of bringing the two sections together. But in all our understanding we agreed that Indian Opinion was to be the real agent by which the ideal was to be spread abroad and it was always recognised that the paper was indispensable and especially the English columns. When you say, therefore, that you would like the idea of our making something of Phoenix without Indian Opinion I think you have waived an important principle, the chief motive for my connection. Your suggestion that only Gujarati could be published in case Mr. Sam and I left, seems to be born of your newer ideals developed in India. To think that such a paper would fulfil the purpose for which we have worked so long is to my mind an entirely mistaken idea.64
In lieu of this West and Govindoo felt they were left with little alternative but to retire from Phoenix and earn a living in Durban. Gandhi agreed to lend them the jobbing plant and paper stacks for this purpose. They discussed the proposition of working in Durban and helping to manage Indian Opinion from there with Manilal Gandhi who had been sent from India some months earlier. He was not enamoured of their ideas, but accepted the position. West offered to continue editing the paper from Durban, informing Manilal he could qualify for the managership within six months. The arrangement was acceptable to both parties for many months, but when Manilal rejected an editorial article from West, he discontinued his editorship. As soon as Govindoo and West began to make a success of their business they returned the jobbing plant to Phoenix.65
The press was now fully controlled by Manilal, but he soon realised that without the financial backing Indian Opinion had received from its inception it would have to be closed down. He informed Gandhi that the paper would have either to accept advertisements and do job printing or receive funding from other sources. Gandhi's response was similar to the answer he had given West. He replied that he had not sent Manilal there to conduct a business but to render public service. In his view Indian Opinion had served its purpose. It had brought into being several Indian newspapers, which all served the public in some way. He advised that the paper should cease publication and the Phoenix land be parcelled out.66
Manilal did not heed his father. He began to do job printing and accept advertisements, continuing to publish the paper until his death in 1956. His wife, Sushila, carried on editing Indian Opinion until 1961 when failing health and a lack of funds forced her to cease publication. It is possible that Gandhi relented on the question of closing the paper because spokesmen of the Indian community in South Africa, aware of its value as an effective mouthpiece of world renown, argued for its continuation. Whatever the case, the services it provided after the departure of Gandhi from South Africa are perhaps best summed up in the editorial of the final issue on 4 August 1961:
Not only did the journal seek to secure to the Indian people political and economic rights due to them as a tax-paying part of the population, but it also sought to chart out a new way of life based on what had become a passion with Gandhiji - Truth... In recent years the journal has tried to present to the people of emergent Africa the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. It has put forward the case for satyagraha as a weapon which the people of Africa can use in their struggle. In addition it has tried to attend to the immediate affairs of the Indian people themselves thus serving both a broad and a narrow horizon ... and while there is a sense of grief that something which has served for 58 years should come to an end there is at all times the challenge of the following from the Bhagavad Gita : "For to the one that is born death is certain and certain is birth for the one that has died. Therefore, for what is unavoidable, thou shalt not grieve."67
Life for the Gandhis who remained in South Africa was never one of ease or comfort. Sushila Gandhi was born into a wealthy family of strict orthodox Hindus who became devout followers of Gandhi. She recalls that her family home came to reflect the Satyagraha Ashram in Ahmedabad (see Chapter 3). Spinning and weaving were household routines and everything worn was made from khadi (hand-woven cloth). After her marriage in India to Manilal, whom she had never met before their wedding day, the couple returned to Phoenix. Sushila helped in the press, setting Gujarati type. In 1930 they were recalled to India to assist with the mass civil disobedience movement (the work at Phoenix was entrusted to a friend). After a year spent in prison during the satyagraha campaign Manilal returned with Sushila to South Africa, where their life's work was centred and where all their children (Sita, Ela and Arun) were born.
For many years Manilal and Sushila were primarily concerned with publishing Indian Opinion, but during the early 1950's efforts were made to attract funding for a school to provide education for the large numbers of Indian children deprived of this opportunity. Manilal wrote to prominent members of the Indian community all over South Africa, and followed this up by visiting personally many recipients of the letter.
To begin with Sushila improvised classes for the children in part of the old house once occupied by Gandhi (both the old press building and house were torn down during the 1950s because of extensive white ant damage to the structures) but within a few months the numbers swelled from five to two hundred. However, a favourable response to the request for money led to the establishment of a school dedicated to the memory of Kasturba Gandhi. By the early 1970's five hundred children, both Indian and African, were being educated there. It was later jointly managed by the Department of Indian Affairs and the Phoenix Settlement Trust. Arun Gandhi recalls that at one time the South African Government threatened to close the school because the area was designated as an African area, while the majority of pupils were Indian. The authorities may also have been sceptical of the type of education imparted at the settlement, perhaps fearing the dissemination of radical ideas regarded as dangerous to the "apartheid" regime. Arun, a journalist resident with his family in Bombay, was fortunate in meeting an English-speaking South African politician on a visit to India and persuading him to take up the cause of Phoenix.The authorities subsequently tolerated the activities of the settlement.68
In addition to the child education scheme a small adult education programme wasalso begun during the 1950's among the black farm labourers working the one hundred acres of farm land owned by the settlement. Initially only five or so of the labourers took up the offer extended to them by the Gandhi family, but the numbers rapidly swelled until approximately sixty Africans were seeking to take advantage of the opportunity. Arun Gandhi recalls that he and his sisters were involved in the teaching. When asked whether this was not too much responsibility for a fifteen or sixteen-year- old boy, he replied that by virtue of the circumstances of the Gandhi family in South Africa responsibility devolved upon the children at a young age. Indeed he remembered the teaching as an enjoyable experience.69 Programmes of education and consciousness-raising among the Indians and Africans continued to develop over the years. Summer schools or camps were held every year, where children of all races gathered to learn the teachings of Gandhi and to exchange ideas. Writing in 1981, the daughter of Manilal and Sushila, Ela Ramgobin, indicated that due to the pressures exerted by the regime in South Africa "the success of these programmes cannot be gauged nor details revealed essentially they remain confidential".70 A medical care centre was also added to the activities of the Phoenix Settlement. Doctors from Durban agreed to participate in the medical scheme and rotate their services on a schedule basis. The Centre had a full -time staff of Africans and Indian nurses who assisted the doctors in the clinic and supervised the twelve-bed hospital.
For many years the affairs of the Phoenix Settlement Trust, including a library and museum, were administered by a committee, which included members of the Gandhi family. Sushila Gandhi retired after a life of active service to the Indian and African communities in South Africa. The hopes and uncertainties of the future for Phoenix were summed up by her in an interview published during 1971:
The future is uncertain. Unless a miracle happens, I shall be the last Gandhi to work here at the Settlement.... You ask whether I would have chosen the "hard life" had I known what was in store for me. Oh yes, I most certainly would have. It has been a wonderful life. And you know hardships cease to be difficult if they are accepted and just lived day by day. I must confess that l do not see eye to eye with all the teachings of the Mahatma. But I do believe in the spirit of all he did and said. And I have tried to live in this spirit. The Ministry of Community Development wishes to use our estate as a buffer between two areas of a planned housing scheme—Indians on the one side, Africans on the other. I cannot say what will happen. My prayer is that the way will open for us in this work. We could pay teachers a little but not very much. I see that as a possible future for Phoenix. Who knows, like the mythical bird, this settlement may yet rise again to its former life and usefulness. The spirit is still here.71
Tragically, the Phoenix Settlement was destroyed by fire in the 1980s during a period of inter tribal fighting. Whether Phoenix can rise "like the mythical bird" from the ashes of South Africa's "apartheid" system will depend on the efforts of the many people dedicated to its reconstruction.
Tolstoy Farm (1910-1913)
Tolstoy Farm was established as a corollary to the Phoenix Settlement scheme. During the second satyagraha campaign against the Asiatic Registration Bill (referred to as the "Black Act" by Gandhi and his followers), which was designed bothto prevent Indians who had left the Transvaal during the Boer War from returning and to prevent any future Indian immigration, the mainstay of the resistance movement were poor Indians residing in the Transvaal. The majority had to leave their families practically without any means of support during the time spent in prison. As a solution to this problem Gandhi saw the need for a "sort of co-operative commonwealth" in the Transvaal after the pattern of the Phoenix Settlement; a community where satyagrahis and their families would work to support themselves, and in the process learn to live a new and simple life in harmony with nature and one another. To facilitate the plan Kallenbach bought a farm of about eleven hundred acres, twenty-one miles from Johannesburg, and offered it to Gandhi and the satyagrahis rent- free on 30 May 1910, with the proviso that the settlers withdrew on the termination of the struggle.72
Gandhi was not only determined to imbue this experiment with the same binding spirit of co-operation that held the settlement at Phoenix together, but he also hoped to avoid whatever shortcomings had handicapped the Phoenix project. At Tolstoy Farm the emphasis was on communal living in every sense. Accommodation was shared, and instead of each settler cultivating a separate plot of land, it was decided that the entire acreage would be cultivated jointly to ensure more efficient production of larger crops, and to enhance the co-operative spirit of the exercise. Gandhi viewed the experiment as an excellent opportunity to inculcate simple, non-materialistic values within the Indian community in South Africa as a whole: "They will have on the farm, a noble life in place of the unclean and monotonous ways of town life. Moreover, what they will learn on the farm will prove useful for a lifetime. Indeed, we have said in the past that the Indian community would be well rewarded if it were to take to agriculture and would be saved the anxieties incidental to business. We have to pay a heavy price for not recognising this best of occupations."73
Tolstoy Farm was so named by Kallenbach himself. He had a great faith in the Russian's teachings and for some time had sought to embrace the ideals of simplicity, manual labour and self-renunciation in his own life-style. Erikson observes that Kallenbach, a German Jew, may have been aware of the Kibbutz movement which at that time under Tolstoyan influence, was setting up Jewish settlements in Palestine. The main difference of course was that men and women were housed separately at Tolstoy Farm.74
A vital factor in the success of the Jewish Independence movements in Palestine was the creation of a dynamic rural economy, based on small agricultural settlements, in which members, united together in a spirit of religious brotherhood, performed all tasks and exalted the dignity of labour. Similarly, in each of the communities Gandhi established, the life-style was rural-oriented on a non-exploitative basis and the members were enjoined to exemplify the dignity of "bread-labour". He later maintained that if all men would only strive for self-sufficiency by the performance of enough physical labour to produce their daily needs wants would be minimised and food would be simple. Rather than live to eat, the poor of the world would begin to know the joy of eating to live. In 1935 he explained that those who took up the practice of labouring for bread would "derive the greatest relish from the productions of their labour, improve their health and discover that many things they took were superfluities".75
Kallenbach chose a suitable farm for the site of Gandhi's second community. The soil was fertile and nearly one thousand fruit trees — including oranges, peaches, apricots, figs, almonds and plums—already grew there. This was a valuable source of income and food for the satyagrahis when the trees were in season. Two wells and a spring ensured a steady supply of water. As the spring was five hundred yards from the settler's quarters the water was fetched on carrying poles.
The question of providing accommodation for the settlers did not present any great difficulty. Apart from a small house built by the previous owner, which accommodated six persons, all construction was done by the settlers themselves. With the assistance of Kallenbach as architect, several Indian carpenters who offered their services free of charge, and a number of African labourers, two buildings were put up to house the men, women and children. In addition a separate house was constructed for Kallenbach, as well as a school building and a workshop for carpentry and shoemaking. Stones for the foundations were available on the farm but had to be rolled quite a distance to the building site.
The initial work was done by six Indians and Kallenbach, who all lived and ate together in the original house. Before long the number of settlers increased considerably, including about forty young men, two or three, old men, five women, and between twenty to thirty children. After about two months of living in tents the motley crowd were all housed in the new structures of corrugated iron and wood. Gandhi's high hopes for the experiment were coming to fruition. "This is a very important venture," he said, "its roots go deep; it is up to the satyagrahis who settle there to make it bear sweet fruit by the way they live."76
As the population of the settlement swelled so too its requirements grew. Gandhi called on Indian tradesmen and fruit and vegetable dealers to supply goods to the farm free of charge or at reduced prices. He asked the Indian community as a whole to support the Tolstoy Farm project in the same ennobling spirit of sacrifice displayed by the carpenters. The message was clear— support for the farm would ensure that the satyagraha campaign was successfully waged and brought to an earlier conclusion. By minimising the costs of maintaining the satyagrahis on the farm a core of activists could continue for a longer period if necessary. It was a technique Gandhi was to use very effectively in the civil disobedience movements in India. He saw that a heterogeneous group of people trusting in him and the principles of truth and nonviolence, living together, working together, and prepared to sacrifice themselves in the satyagraha struggle symbolised a unity and strength capable of rousing people to rebel.
The satyagrahis at Tolstoy Farm observed a strict daily regimen. No servants were employed except for several African labourers who were hired to help with building construction, and later occasionally on the farm. From cooking and scavenging to teaching the children, all daily tasks were carried out by the settlers themselves. Though there were Christians and Muslims amongst the satyagrahis, meat was not eaten, partly in deference to Gandhi's strong belief in vegetarianism, and partly for reasons of economy and simple organisation. The severity of the pattern was reminiscent of ordered life in certain Christian monastic orders:
The time as well as the number of meals was fixed. There was to be one single kitchen, and all were to dine in a single row. Everyone was to see to the cleaning of his own dish and other things. The common pots were to be cleaned by different parties in turn. I must state that satyagrahis lived on Tolstoy Farm for a long time, but neither the women nor the men asked, for meat (even the children readily accepted this vegetarianism). Drink, smoking, etc. were of course totally prohibited.77
Gandhi and Kallenbach set the example of renunciation and discipline that permeated the Tolstoy Farm community. From 1910 to 1913 they carried out many dietetic experiments and fasted regularly. Though Hindus normally allow themselves milk and fruit when fasting, as this was Gandhi's normal diet, he took nothing but water during a fast. His attitudes towards diet, and sex hardened: "The concupiscence of the mind cannot be rooted out except by intense self-examination, surrender to God and, lastly, grace. But there is an intimate connection between the mind and the body, and thecarnal mind always lusts for delicacies and luxuries. To obviate this tendency dietetic restrictions would appear to be necessary. The carnal mind, instead of controlling the senses, becomes their slave, and therefore the body always needs clean non-stimulating foods and periodical fasting."78 On occasion he fasted as a form of moral penance for what he believed were "transgressions" committed by settlers, whether adults or children.79 Unable to conceive of any boundary between public and private morality he tried to expiate the wrong-doings of others by taking responsibility for their actions upon himself. It bound the community and his ever-increasing circle of disciples and supporters more closely to him.
The young people and children at Tolstoy Farm were encouraged to follow one another's religious observances. During the Muslim Ramzan fast, for instance, they all agreed to join Gandhi in observing the fast. "The result of these experiments was that all were convinced of the value of fasting," he observed, "and a splendid esprit de corps grew up among them." A large proportion of the settlers responded to Gandhi's arguments and began to observe partial or complete fasts. Recalling that some of his friends faltered in their experiments, Gandhi noted in his autobiography that "fasting is futile unless it is accompanied by an incessant longing for self-restraint". The Bhagavad Gita remained his constant source of inspiration in matters of bodily discipline:
For a man who is fasting his senses Outwardly, the sense-objects disappear,
The watchwords of the Tolstoy Farm community were industry, economy and self-sufficiency. Unused to the rigoursof rural life, the settlers struggled in cold, hot and wet weather conditions to improve their quality of life. As Kallenbach knew something of gardening it became obligatory for those not engaged in the kitchen, young and old, to devote some' time to this pursuit. Of course, the young did the bulk of the work, digging pits, felling timber and carrying loads. Ample exercise, nourishing, regular food arid clean air and water kept the settlers, and especially the children, in good health. When illness did strike neither a doctor was called nor drugsused, but at all times Gandhi persevered with nature cure therapies such as earth and water treatment, fasting and changes in diet. One of the rules laid down was that anyone who had to conduct business in Johannesburg on behalf of the community must travel by third class rail, and to- discourage settlers from going to the city unnecessarily it was also stipulated that pleasure-seekers must travel there and back on foot. In fact many acquired the habit of walking as a result and greatly benefited from theexercise, but most importantly precious money was saved by this one rule. Gandhi would often rise at two o'clock in the morning, walk the twenty-one miles into Johannesburg, attend to his law practice and other concerns, and walk back by evening. To ensure that money was not squandered in the city simple provisions were made available to day travellers. An iron handmill was purchased to grind wheat for home-baked wholemeal bread and groundnuts for butter. Marmalade was made from oranges grown on the farm.81
Gandhi recalled that all the settlers accepted these disciplines cheerfully: "It would have been impossible to have a single settler if force had been employed. The youngsters thoroughly enjoyed the work on the farm and the errands to the city.... No more work was given to them than what they willingly and cheerfully rendered, and I never found that the work thus done was unsatisfactory either in quantity or quality.'82 Despite the large number of settlers, the farm was kept very clean. All rubbish was buried in trenches, all waste water collected in buckets and used towater the trees, and all food refuse and excreta was covered in earth pits and later utilised as manure. These methods were not only hygienic but afforded a rich supply of organic fertiliser for the farm. Later, in India, Gandhi launched an extensive propaganda programme to teach the villagers the necessity of efficient sanitation and hygiene, and ways in which such practices could improve their crops. The settlers also made their own furniture, clothes and sandals, Kallenbach went to the Trappist monastery near Pinetown to learn sandal-making. All wore trousers and shirts made out of coarse blue cloth and fashioned after a gaol uniform, which were suitable for labouring. The food served was simple vegetarian prepared in Indian style and eaten with wooden spoons made at the settlement.83
In Gandhi's reminiscences of the Tolstoy Farm experiment Kallenbach figures prominently. He had lived a life of ease until meeting Gandhi, and some Europeans regarded his determination to follow the austere pattern set by his Indian friend as foolishness. In fact he was the mainstay of many settlement activities such as sandal-making, carpentry, gardening and tending the fruit trees. Each morning he would engage settlers to assist him in his task, and due to his affable nature everyone enjoyed working with him. After learning that certain types of snakes protect field crops from rodents and other vermin Kallenbach made an extensive study of snake lore. He taught the settlers to distinguish different varieties, and though the farm was infested with snakes they avoided killing them unless absolutely necessary.
Gandhi and Kallenbach had frequent discussions on religion. Both believed in theduty of carrying out in practice every principle they were convinced of intellectually, and eagerly joined one another in dietetic experiments and regular fasting. When Gandhi read that Indian dairymen resorted to cruel methods to extract milk from their cows he and Kallenbach gave up cow's milk. Though Gandhi was never convinced that a purely fruit diet was best for man, he had no doubts as to its religious value. "Medically there may be two opinions as to the value of this diet," he writes, "but morally I have no doubt that all self-denial is good for the soul."84 Before retiring at nine o'clock every night the settlers would join Gandhi in reading from the Bhagavad Gita and other religious scriptures, to pray and to sing devotional songs in English, Hindi and Gujarati. This daily gathering reunited the community in the same spirit of devotion and brotherhood which had marked its inception: "The settlers learned to look upon one another as members of the same family; the satyagrahis secured a pure place of refuge; little scope was left for dishonesty or hypocrisy."85
The ordered pattern of life at Tolstoy Farm was in many ways a kin to the discipline of monastic "rule". However, Gokhale's experience at the settlement during his tour of South Africa in 1912 indicates there may have been more pride than humility in the asceticism of Gandhi and his followers at times. Gandhi was keen that Gokhale should see the Tolstoy Farm experiment, but during his brief visit he became ill. He was forced, to suffer the hardships of settlement life whilst in poor health. Yet, he found this more tolerable than the excessive attention and concern showered upon him by Gandhi and the satyagrahis. It was Gokhale's practice in India never to permit anyone to wait upon him except a servant. There were no servants at the settlement but he was upset with the settlers' concerned ministrations. He complained: "You all seem to think that you have been born to suffer hardships and discomforts, and people like myself have been born to be pampered by you. You must suffer today the punishment for this extremism of yours. I will not let you even touch me. Do you think that you willgoouttoattend to nature's needs and at the same time keep a commode for me? I will bear any amount of hardship but I will humble your pride.'86 Gokhale bore everything cheerfully, but allowed no one to serve him in any way, except to bring food.
By March 1911 it was apparent that the second satyagraha campaign was almost over. There were no plans to continue the settlement after the end of the struggle, but Gandhi had no desire to abandon Tolstoy Farm without first compensating Kallenbach for the expenditure he incurred in subsidising the experiment (he had spent some £600 on buildings alone). He wrote to Maganlal Gandhi of his decision to remain at the farm: "My struggle will not be over when our satyagraha struggle ends. It is as it should be. That I shall have to stay on at Mr. Kallenbach's farm is something not expected. I shall get plenty of experience even from that; and who knows, it may be for my good."87 A number of settlers remained with Gandhi to work the farm and tend the fruit trees. His educational and disciplinary experiments continued unabated. The austerities he began to practise at Phoenix had become a way of life at Tolstoy Farm.
After the Farm was eventually closed in 1913 many of his pupils joined Phoenix and played an important role in the final satyagraha struggle: 'The training imparted in Tolstoy Farm proved to be of great use in this last fight. The mode of life accepted by the satyagrahis on the Farm became an invaluable asset in the struggle. It was copied and improved upon in Phoenix."88 In his recollections of this period Gandhi doubted whether the political struggle could have been maintained for eight years without the extra funds and moral support the Tolstoy Farm experiment attracted. As a symbol of unity, sacrifice and strength he believed the experiment had proved invaluable.89
During a trip to South Africa, in 1968, some friends helped Erikson to find Tolstoy Farm. Nobody in the vicinity had heard of Gandhi, and it was only with some difficulty that they found the farm, which was at that time occupied by an Afrikaner farmer and his family. With regard to Kallenbach, a person of that name told Erikson on the telephone that there had once been a "wealthy eccentric" in the family.90 The Indian community acquired the original building of the farm as a memorial to Gandhi.
The Educational Experiments — A Non-Formal Approach
Gandhi's educational theory and practice played a most important, but controversial role as the integral link between all his manifold concerns. After many years of piece meal experimentation his ideas evolved into a coherent and consistent philosophy. His primary objective was to develop a practical means of providing all Indians with the minimum education necessary to understand the complexities of their environment, and to be self-sufficient within that environment.
Gandhi believed that the main aim of education was "character-building" and he found in the writings of Tolstoy, Ruskin, Emerson and Thoreau much that confirmed his belief. For instance, addressing a gathering on the nature of scholarship in 1837, Emerson said: "The one thing in the world of value is the active soul. This every man is entitled to; this every man contains within him, although in almost all men obstructed, and as yet unborn. The soul active sees absolute truth and utters truth.... Of course, he who has putforth his total strength in fit actions has the richest return of wisdom.... Character is higher than intellect. Thinking is the function. Living is the functionary.... I hear therefore with joy whatever is beginning to be said of the dignity and necessity of labour to every citizen."91
Tolstoy too laid much stress on manual activity as an essential expression of religious faith and a sound basis for spiritual development. But the direction Gandhi's educational thought would take ultimately is most clearly indicated in Ruskin's preface to the first edition of Unto This Last. In its germinal stage Gandhi's concept of self-supporting education was indistinguishable from Ruskin's suggestion that "any man, or woman or boy, or girl, out of employment, should be at once received at the nearest school and set to such work as it appeared, on trial, they were fit for, at a fixed rate of wages determinable every year." Ruskin also proposed that training schools associated with "manufactories and workshops" should be set up for boys.92 Common to Gandhi and all these thinkers is the idea that education, to be practical and effective, cannot be divorced from manual work.
Though Gandhi had shown an inclination to teach prior to his life in South Africa, it was in his own household in Durban and later in Johannesburg that he first began to give practical expression to his views on education. The first lessons he taught his children were concerned with voluntary work and the dignity of labour rather than literary education. He refused toallow the boys to be educated under the prevailing formal educational system, which he argued was of little use and did not produce men and women capable of fulfilling their duty to society. He always regarded character-building as the principal aim of education and the foundation upon which any subsequent learning rested. This meant that "under ideal conditions, true education could be imparted only by the parents, and that then there should be the minimum of outside help".93
Gandhi's children did not share his insight into the damage caused by adherence to an alien system of education. They resented being deprived of an opportunity to receive an English literary education. An Indian friend once offered to pay the cost of educating one of Gandhi's sons in England. The offer was refused and another boy sent from Phoenix, contracted tuberculosis soon after reaching England and was forced to return home. Though Harilal was the only son to break away from his father's influence (and probably as a consequence suffered from guilt for the remainder of his life) the evidence suggests that all the boys were frustrated and dissatisfied with the education they received. Nirmala Gandhi, wife of the third son, Ramdas, in an interview with Ved Mehta during the 1970s, said: "Poor Ramdasji, he always blamed Bapu for not giving him any formal Western education to speakof—Bapu did not believe in it.He thought all types of work, big or small, were equally worthwhile. In fact, he thought that running a kitchen was more important than teaching at a university, since the universities supported British rule. Poor, poor, Ramdasji.... Later on, Bapu sent him back to South Africa, where he really belonged."94 In retrospect, it would appear that Gandhi's sons were the victims of their father's extraordinary role in contemporary history, rather than of his neglect.
On one occasion, at Phoenix, Harilal complained bitterly to Millie Polak: “My father was properly educated; why can't I be?" She sympathised with him, and repeated Gandhi's arguments by way of explanation. "That is all very well," Harilal replied, "but my father could not do the work he is doing if he had not been educated, and I want to be too."95 Both the Polaks remonstrated with Gandhi over his apparent failure to give his sons a "proper education", and his insistence that whatever instruction they did receive should be in the Gujarati medium. In this context Albert West also disagreed with Gandhi's views. Though he understood that scholastic education was unnecessary for the formation of character, he was confused by Gandhi's determination to have his way on the question of his sons' education.
In 1920 a friend of West, who was also a co-worker with Gandhi during the Rowlatt satyagraha (1919), wrote to him from London, criticising Gandhi's methods: "He does not seem to me to realise what a very imperfect thing is the human nature which is his material for constructing a better scheme of things, and to my mind he makes the fatal mistake, which the greatest teachers have always avoided, of supposing that everyone is immediately capable of attaining the Kingdom of Heaven." West recalls that many of those who worked in close association with Gandhi in South Africa at times observed the same thing — "And yet we loved him in spite of it, or rather, because of it".96
When Gandhi first wrote down his views on education in Hind Swaraj (1909) he asked that the pretension of learning many sciences be abandoned and that ethical education be given more priority. He also saw dangers to Indian culture and society inherent in the use of English as the medium of instruction. The thoughts of the renowned educationist and activist, Paulo Friere, are pertinent to Gandhi's belief that adherence to the British system of education amounted to an acceptance of cultural, in addition to political and economic imperialism:
Education as the exercise of domination stimulates the credulity of students, with the ideological intent (often not perceived by educators) of indoctrinating them to adapt to the world of oppression.... Nor may a revolutionary society inherit these methods from an oppressing society... one does not liberate men by alienating them.97
To counteract the tendency towards acculturation evident amongst India's elites during British rule Gandhi felt that Indians desperately needed a universal language with which to identify. "If we can do this we can drive the English language out of this field; through our slavery the nation has been enslaved and it will be free with our freedom", he wrote.98 Using strong language Gandhi later reiterated in his autobiography, his opposition to the use of English: "It has always been my conviction that Indian parents who train their children to think and talk in English from their infancy betray their children and their country. They deprive them of the spiritual and social heritage of the nation, and render them to that extent unfit for the service of the country."99
Gandhi's first experiment with education in a school environment was at Phoenix. Several months after the establishment of the settlement Gandhi described the scheme to Gokhale and claimed that the community was patterned after the Fergusson College in Pune, a charitable institution run by the Deccan Education Society. Though it is a moot point to what extent Phoenix was fashioned after Fergusson College, Gandhi wanted Gokhale's support for Indian Opinion and the settlement. He informed Gokhale enthusiastically of his intention to open a boarding school on the grounds of Phoenix, "second to none in South Africa", primarily for Indian children but open to any childable to board. To assist his scheme he asked Gokhale to send two or three graduates with an aptitude for teaching, "who bear a blameless character and who would be prepared to work for a mere living".100
The modest development of the Phoenix school that did take place was a far cry from these ambitious plans. The grandiosity of the envisaged scheme indicates that even at this early stage of Gandhi's career as a public worker he was preparing to spread his "gospel" on a large scale. He exhorted young Indians in South Africa to dedicate themselves to educational work as a labour of love; to prepare for a long and strenuous struggle; and to be not only content with poverty, but to train themselves for the vocation.101 In reply to a youth who wished tojoinPhoenix after the end of the second satyagraha campaign in 1911, Gandhi outlined the strict regimen followed by pupils there:
In Phoenix, 1. you will have to observe brahmacharya; 2. you will be under a vow of scrupulous regard for truth; 3. you will have todochiefly manuallabour, i.e., work with the hoe and shovel; 4. if you intend to add to your book learning, please forget all about it. Whatever addition comes naturally or because circumstances demand it will be welcome; 5. you should make up your mind that our duty is to strengthen character rather than acquire book-learning; 6. you should embrace absolute poverty. You should think of joining Phoenix only if you would and can do this. You should tell yourself that life there will grow harder as the days pass and know that this is for your good.102
In the early days of Phoenix the school was conducted in the house of Cordes, the German Theosophist from Rhodesia. The original class consisted of the Gandhi boys and several children of non-indentured Indians, who lived in huts about one mile from Phoenix. Chhaganlal Gandhi taught arithmetic, Maganlal Gandhi took Gujarati lessons, Cordes gave lessons in English, and other settlers contributed whatever they could in haphazard fashion. The various satyagraha campaigns swelled the number of pupils considerably as Gandhi took the responsibility for educating the sons of gaoled satyagrahis.
During the second phase of the satyagraha struggle two or three boys from the cities were billeted with each family at Phoenix. Though this situation only lasted for between eight to ten months it placed a severe strain on the financial resource and social harmony of the settlement. While the boys were reasonably well-behaved, it remained that they were unaccustomed to the hardships of life at Phoenix and found it difficult to settle down. Among the boys were Muslims and Christians, and though the Hindu families were encouraged to ensure that the guest students were not treated as outsiders, Prabhudas Gandhi recalls that his family members, for instance, despite their efforts to reconcile the presence of non-Hindus in the household, did not achieve emotionally the ideal set before them by Gandhi. After Gandhi's departure for London in 1909 the experiment of lodging students with settlement families was terminated and never renewed.103
Yet, the educational experiment did progress. During the last phase of the satyagraha struggle money was raised to build a school; children of civil disobedients again stayed at Phoenix; and sickly children from poor Indian families in the cities and towns were nursed back to health and received schooling whilst at the settlement. "If the first note was simplicity, the second was universal brotherhood," wrote Andrews, "for here distinction of creed and race and colour had been resolved in a higher synthesis which was wonderful to witness.... No one was a servant in Gandhi's household, orratherall were servants of oneanother."104 The system of education at Phoenix was erratic. The teachers and the text-books were frequently changed and Gandhi was rarely able to lend his guiding hand to the experiment. For as long as Cordes remained at Phoenix (he later left for India to pursue his interest in Theosophy, and died at Sevagram Ashram in 1960) he was principal of the school.In accordance with the aim of strengthening the moral character of the pupils, attention was paid to the simultaneous development of mind and body, but in contrast with Gandhi's approach Cordes was a strict disciplinarian.105 The children were required to spend three hours at school, two hours on agriculture, two hours in the printing press, and, time allowing, to read their lessons at night. When Gandhi could spare the time he would discuss religion, important events, people and books with them as they did manual work.
The Indian children were required to speak in their own language at home and to spend time learning other Indian languages. Gandhi would impress upon them the importance ofancient Indian culture, but though he wanted the children to live a life of extreme simplicity and to identify themselves with the very poor, he nevertheless encouraged them to "take full advantage of modern science in work, in the fields, in the home and elsewhere."106 Each day would thus involve instruction in general and literary knowledge, various techniques of creative work and a great deal of physical exercise.
Gandhi never compelled or coerced thechildren todoanything, and believed that they should neither be insulted nor humiliated for any reason. To ensure that they developed as responsible members of the settlement nothing of import was kept from them, and when they presented themselves to him in the evening after the chores were finished he would praise their efforts and offer further encouragement. In reply to his son Manilal's anxious queries with regard to further education Gandhi summed up his attitude to the Phoenix experiment:
First of all, we shall have to consider how we can realise the self and how serve our country. After we do this, we can explain what Phoenix is. For realising the self, the first essential thing is to cultivate a strong moral sense. Morality means the acquisition of virtues such as fearlessness, truth, brahmacharya and so on. Service is automatically rendered to the country in this process of cultivating morality. Phoenix is a great help in this process. I believe that it is very difficult to preserve morality in cities where people live in congestion and there are many temptations. That is why the wise have recommended solitary places like Phoenix. Experience is the real school- Phoenix is not perfect but we wish it to become so.... The school is a means to achieve our end. If it breaks down, we shall know that we are not yet fit for that kind of work.107
This answer may not have consoled the boy but it is a clear indication of Gandhi's faith in the ancient ashramic educational system of aryavarta and his determination to make Phoenix or some future community the fundamental experiment of his life.
Political activism would always remain secondary to constructive service offered through the dynamics of non-violence. During all the political agitations Gandhi always had the presence of mind to attend to the problems of social construction work.Yet, his resolve to reconcile social service with an active political life on occasion caused him considerable anguish. It is ironical that while he yearned to be able to concentrate his efforts on community service, his sons longed for more opportunity to express their own individuality.108
The Tolstoy Farm community founded in 1910 and disbanded in 1913, proved to be an ideal laboratory for Gandhi's educational experiments. "Tolstoy Farm was a family in which I occupied the place of the father," wrote Gandhi, "and that I should so far as possible shoulder the responsibility for the training of the young."109 The routine of the children on the farm was divided between attending classes (Kallenbach and Pragji Desai assisted with these) and contributing to the maintenance of the farm.As at the Phoenix Settlement manual work was combined with instruction on a daily basis, but Gandhi took thisone step further at Tolstoy by introducing vocational training to give "all-round development to the boys and girls". Although at this stage there was no attempt to educate the children through the medium of a specific handicraft, Gandhi enabled each child to become self-supporting by supplementing their education with vocational training. Their ages ranging from six to sixteen, the children had on an average eight hours of manual training per day, and one or, at the most, two hours of book learning."110
An added dimension of the Tolstoy Farm experiment was the decision to hold co-educational classes, and indeed toencourage the boys and girls to do everything together. Gandhi had an implicit faith in the essential "purity" of children. Whenever an incident occurred to shake this faith he would accept responsibility, and fast as penance for the offence. He continued to believe in the benefits of co-education, but to guard against moral lapses he would ensure that a more stringent regimen was followed in later years.
The activities which the young contributed their energies to at Tolstoy Farm included general labouring, cooking, scavenging, sandal-making, simple carpentry and messenger work. But Gandhi did not recommend manual activities merely because they were materially productive or remunerative. In addition to productive crafts, manual work of a purely constructive nature was also essential for the maintenance and development of community life. The contribution of work such as sweeping, scavenging and water fetching was seen to be invaluable to the psychological, social and moral well-being of an integrated community. Gandhi's objective in this context was to inculcate the ideals of social service and citizenship through all the activities of children from the earliest formative years.
When Gandhi left South Africa in 1914 his ideas and ideals had a strong foundation in experience, and the pattern his life would subsequently follow lay firmly rooted in the inspiration and knowledge drawn from the twenty-one years spent in an alien land.
During the South African years he had refined his asceticism, setting the standards of austerity he would in future expect his followers to maintain. Gandhi had not fully adopted the religious way of life at Phoenix, but at Tolstoy Farm his spirituality permeated community life. At Tolstoy he was at a physical and spiritual peak, which Pyarelal believed he never reached again in India. He was developing ideas and putting them into practice at a greater pace then previously and, in Pyarelal's words, "was like a blazing meteor".111
Tolstoy Farm wasa home for satyagrahis and in future Gandhi's communities would play a vital role in his political campaigns. They provided moral and economic support to active satyagrahis and were an ideal training ground for potential satyagrahis. At Phoenix and Tolstoy Farm he was experimenting with ideas formulated during his student years in London and early years in South Africa. The two communities had developed as an expression of his main aims, and on the basis of the asceticism fostered at Phoenix and Tolstoy Farm he waged a series of non-violent campaigns against the South African Government with some success.
His antagonism towards modern materialistic civilisation which had begun during his student days in London, had grown in South Africa. In 1909 he had set out the issues which most concerned him in Hind Swaraj, a short polemical tract which he called "a severe condemnation of modern civilisation".112 In essence the message was that modem civilisation, of which the British Raj was but an expression posed a severe threat to Indian society. The Rajcould only be combated through true self-rule, achieved not by social or political violence, but by a renascence of the highest ascetic values of personal renunciation and non-violent action. Gandhi had reached such a position as a result of his growing disenchantment with the British Empire and with Western civilisation in general.
Increasingly, Gandhi stressed his idea of satyagraha as a means of returning to the natural condition of man. The approach permeated his thought and action. Forhim satyagraha had become not merely a political technique of rebellion but an alternative medium of education and way of life. Moreover, he had come to believe that this way of life could only reach its zenith in India.113 Yet how this was to workout, he was still unsure when he departed from South Africa for London in 1914:
"There was, and there would be, much vanity in his poverty, much conceit in his humility, and much stubborn persistence in his helplessness, until he would find a leverage to make for himselfand for thedestitute Indians—out of poverty, humility and helplessness a new strength and a new instrument."114
Source: From the book, 'Gandhi and His Ashrams'