By Sohail Parwaz
There is a deliberate delusion spread among the people of the world that Gandhi was amongst the pioneers who kicked off a war against the white minority rule in South Africa. His Satyagraha campaigns were wrongly attributed towards the anti-apartheid movement of South Africa. In fact Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had remained for the most of his life in British camp and his various racist remarks against the Black majority of the South Africa are very much on record. Gandhi, when visited Bombay in 1896, stated that “the government wanted to keep the Indians at a level with the raw kaffir, whose occupation was hunting and whose sole ambition was to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with, and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness”.
As far as his Satyagraha is concerned, these self-restraint movements were always for the betterment of the Indian settlers in South Africa and not for the Black. It is wrongly propagated that from 1906 -1908 for three years in a row the Satyagraha he organised were to protest against compulsory registration of Asiatic (The Black Act). The fact is that his so-called peaceful self-restraint movements were actually organised to protest against the proposed Asiatic Ordinance directed against Indian immigrants in Transvaal.
In 1908 Gandhi was sentenced a two months jail which he couldn’t sustain and after few days he was released as an outcome of his deal with General Smuts. Eventually, he was attacked for compromising with General Smuts when he came out of jail after a couple of weeks. During the two month jail which he never completed when he was forced to share a cell with black prisoners, he endorsed derogatory remarks in his note book, “Many of the native prisoners are only one degree removed from the animal and often created rows and fought among themselves”. The bitter truth is that many of his writings are available where one can find his hate for the inopportune Black majority of South Africa. Gandhi returned briefly to India in 1896 but not only to bring Kasturbai Makanji (his wife) and children to live with him in South Africa rather to bring in more Indians hence when he returned in January 1897 a large number of poor Indian immigrants accompanied him. The news spread like a jungle fire and a riotous crowd of whites awaited him at Port Natal to lynch him. By then Mr. Gandhi had developed a considerable reputation as a troublemaker, and they were determined that he should not be allowed to land.
As a matter of fact M.K Gandhi was always all out to support the British rule whether in South Africa or later in the Subcontinent. With the outbreak of the Boer war in 1899, Gandhi enlisted over a thousand Indians and organized the Indian Ambulance Corps for the British. He himself was a stretcher-bearer at the Battle of Spion Kop in January of 1900, and was decorated. During the war, Gandhi was able to find a way to merge his loyalty to Britain against the Boers with his ardent pacifism. Incidentally at the culmination of the war, the situation for the Indians continued to deteriorate instead of improving. In 1908, the Transvaal government promulgated the Asiatic Registration Act, coercing the registration of the colony’s Indian population. Until that point in his life, he would contentedly declare that he and his fellow Indians were “proud to be under the British Crown,” believing that “England will prove India’s deliverer.”
Unfortunately the false myth didn’t work long. His letters and writings slowly and surely started coming out of the dark and revealed gradually his true inner. His views about the Black natives of South Africa are no more a secret. The Bambatha Rebellion of 1905 is that nightmare which the Black would never forget. That was a war waged by the colonialists against Zulus who were rightly fighting against the imposition of a poll tax imposed by Natal colonial government on every Zulu male at a time when poverty was rapidly increasing among the Zulu people. Many of the Zulu people resisted the tax and in February 1906 two policemen were murdered in the Richmond district of Natal. Twelve men were found guilty of the murders and were put to death by a firing squad. Gandhi never cared or bothered for the Black and while indifferent to such incidents his overall strategy would always concentrate on full citizenship in the colonies for Indians; hence he found it, an opportunity for them thus encouraged the Indians to serve with the colonial forces fighting to suppress the Bambatha Rebellion. Consequent to this war around 3000 to 4000 Zulu men were killed and a further 7000 jailed. Gandhi’s role during this uprising remained anti-native thus the Black community ear marked him as a racist.
For this very reason, almost seven years back in October 2003, when hpw a statue of Gandhi was put up in the middle of Johannesburg it triggered a row over his alleged contempt for black people. Although the 8 ft high bronze statue depicted Gandhi as a dashing young human rights lawyer but the natives were not willing to accept a person as a human rights flag bearer who was alleged to view the black people as lazy savages who were barely human. Exactly when the statue was erected in Gandhi Square of Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela was praising him as “The Sacred Warrior”, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was heard saying that “Look what they make him do. The great Mandela has no control or say anymore. They put that huge statue of Gandhi right in the middle of the most affluent ‘white’ area of Johannesburg. Not here where we spilled our blood and where it all started”.
The resentful readers also have been noted writing letters to the editors, like the one published few years back in The Citizen, “Gandhi had no love for Africans. To him, Africans were no better than the ‘Untouchables’ of India”. Others readers were rather harsher, claiming that the civil rights icon “hated” black people and ignored their suffering at the hands of colonial masters while championing the cause of Indians. The most interesting thing was that a popular Johannesburg daily ‘This Day’ quoting GB Singh, the author of a critical book about Gandhi, once wrote that, GB Singh while sifting through photos of Gandhi in South Africa had found not one black person in his vicinity in a single photograph even. Ironically, what Gandhi sow a century back the Indians settlers in South Africa will have to reap it now and that’s haunting them.
The Black people are being made aware of the fact that the Indians fear their coming into power as a great threat to the South African Indians interests hence are endeavouring to keep the Black away from the ruling throne. It has awakened the Black people from every walk of life and they have started talking about it openly may they be the intellectuals, lawyers, politicians or art representatives. A renowned South African producer Mbongeni Ngema composed a song back in 2002, titled “Amandiya” which means Indians in Zulu. The lyrics openly allege the country’s Indian population as abusive to black people, and being more racist than whites. Ngema’s song blamed Indians for taking advantage of blacks. He denounces the influx of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, who he says are flooding into South Africa, so much so that “a brave man is required to confront” them. Though the song was removed from the public airwaves same year June 19 in the name of provoking racial hatred in the country however it is still popular with the Black majority.
There are more than one million Indians in South Africa; most of them were brought here by the British from India in the mid-19th century. They were hired to work in the mines or at sugar plantations in KwaZulu- Natal. Since 1994 there has been a steady but constant trickle of immigrants from India. It is well known that there is a growing unease between black South Africans and Indians in South Africa. A recent poll suggests that a large percentage of Indians there think that things were better during apartheid. Despite their support for the ruling African National Congress, more Indians than whites in South Africa were unhappy with the present dispensation and prefer the former apartheid regime to the present democratic state. There is of course a lot of racial tension between the two groups. Indians have been heard asking each other a question that, “Who does the A.N.C. represent? Do they represent the unemployed and uneducated black street masses or are they representing the educated and civilised Indians, who own a house, whose children are going to school? That’s where the fear is coming from.” While worrying about themselves the Indians are not pushed about the Black majority that has seen a lot of injustice and whose sacrifices for the freedom can’t go un-noted.
There is an interesting similarity between the American pioneers and the South African Voortrekkers (Pioneers). While American pioneers of the Wild West would move westwards in horse drawn covered wagons to settle the vast abandoned land, the South African Voortrekkers (Pioneers) would embark on the Great Trek northwards and eastwards, also in oxen drawn covered wagons. As the pioneers would draw their wagons in a circle to defend their families from hostile attacks, so the Voortrekkers would form the Laager. Who knows that Indians silent attempts to dominate South Africa may compel the Black Africans to form a Laager?
Sohail Parwaz is an accomplished writer and that too genetically. He has written several TV scripts and has beenwriting regular columns in the newspapers. He has also written a few books. He contributes regularly to Opinion Maker.