There was a group of Negro soldiers from West Africa. West African Negroes are perhaps the most awakened of the Africans. The experiment of modern university education has been tried among them and has produced some brilliant though queer results.
They quoted Gandhiji's observation that to remain in slavery is
beneath the dignity of man; a slave who is conscious of his state
and yet does not strive to break his chains is lower than the beast.
"How can a continent like Africa fight down the fetters of slavery
when it is so hopelessly divided?" they asked.
"I know your difficulty," replied Gandhiji. "If you think of the
vast size of Africa, the distance and natural obstacles separating
its various parts, the scattered condition of its people and the
terrible divisions among them, the task might well appear to be
hopeless. But there is a charm which can overcome all these
handicaps. The moment the slave resolves that he will no longer be a
slave, his fetters fall. He frees himself and shows the way to
others. Freedom and slavery are mental states. Therefore, the first
thing is to say to yourself: I shall no longer accept the role of a
slave. I shall not obey orders as such but shall disobey them when
they are in conflict with my conscience.' The so-called master may
lash you and try to force you to serve him. You will say: 'No, I
will not serve you for your money or under a threat.' This may mean
suffering. Your readiness to suffer will light the torch of freedom
which can never be put out." "Africa and India both drink of the cup
of slavery. What necessary steps can be taken to unite the two
nations so as to present a common front?"
"You are right," replied Gandhiji. "India is not yet free and yet
Indians have begun to realize that their freedom is coming, not
because the white man says so but because they have developed the
power within. Inasmuch as India's struggle is non-violent, it is a
struggle for the emancipation of all the oppressed races against
superior might. I do not propose mechanical joint action between
them. 'Each one has to find his own salvation' is true of this as
well as of the other world. It is enough that there is a real moral
bond between Asiatics and Africans. It will grow as time passes."
They wanted to know what India could give them and how they could
achieve 'co-operative industrialization in order to be saved from
the terrible exploitation under which they were suffering.
"The commerce between India and Africa," replied Gandhiji, "will be
of ideas and services, not of manufactured goods against raw
materials after the fashion of Western exploiters. Then, India can
offer you the spinning wheel. If I had discovered it when I was in
South Africa, I would have introduced it among the Africans who were
my neighbours in Phoenix. You can grow cotton, you have ample
leisure and plenty of manual skill. You should study and adopt the
lesson of the village crafts we are trying to revive. Therein lies
the key to your salvation."