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OF IDOLS AND CLAY FEET

 

By Rosemary Ekosso

 

Monday, March 3, 2008.

 

On January 3, 2000, Nelson Mandela wrote an article about Mahatma Ghandi for TIME Magazine. In it, Mandela said: “He dared to exhort non-violence in a time when the violence of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had exploded on us; he exhorted morality when science, technology and the capitalist order had made it redundant; he replaced self-interest with group interest without minimizing the importance of self.”

 

Mandela says that Ghandi inspired him. The Rev Martin Luther King Jr was also influenced by Ghandi’s when he espoused non-violence. Like Ghandi, both the Rev King Jr and Mandela are saints to many people.

 

Until fairly recently, I had no reason to question this. However, a few years ago, I read something about Ghandi’s racism towards black people in South Africa that I found deeply distressing. But I decided that it was just cyber-muckraking and ignored it.

 

A couple of weeks ago, however, I mentioned this to someone who pointed to me to a number of online resources making the same claim, complete with quotations.

 

Ghandi went to South Africa in 1893, and stayed there till 1914. While there, he was subjected to racist behaviour from the dominant white South African establishment that convinced him to extend his intended year-long stay. Principally, he stayed to help the Indians in that country to challenge a bill that would have denied them the right to vote.

 

This is where the plot thickens. In fighting for Indian rights, he purportedly made a number of statements about blacks in that country, who were known as “Kaffirs”. Ghandi also called them Kaffirs. He even fought in the war the British waged on the Zulus.

 

He held the rank of Sergeant-Major, it would seem, and encouraged the Brit to make use of the Indians as soldiers: “If the Government only realized what reserve force is being wasted, they would make use of it and give Indians the opportunity of a thorough training for actual warfare”.

 

To return to the “Kaffirs”, there is a wealth of direct quotes from Ghandi’s works. A few are given below:

 

Ours is one continued struggle against degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the European, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir, whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with, and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness.

 

It is one thing to register natives who would not work, and whom it is very difficult to find out if they absent themselves, but it is another thing -and most insulting -to expect decent, hard-working, and respectable Indians, whose only fault is that they work too much, to have themselves registered and carry with them registration badges.

 

Now let us turn our attention to another and entirely unrepresented community-the Indian. He is in striking contrast with the native. While the native has been of little benefit to the State, it owes its prosperity largely to the Indians. While native loafers abound on every side, that species of humanity is almost unknown among Indians here.

 

It seems that the petition is being widely circulated, and signatures are being taken of all coloured people in the three colonies named. The petition is non-Indian in character, although British Indians, being coloured people, are very largely affected by it. We consider that it was a wise policy on the part of the British Indians throughout South Africa, to have kept themselves apart and distinct from the other coloured communities in this country.

 

The quotes are taken from the Trinicenter.com website , but there are many more, for example in Raceandhistory.com  and the Historical Revisionism website.

 

How does one deal with the fact of a genuine idol with very, very genuine clay feet?

 

The proof is incontrovertible that this man did not like black people. But he was one of the best things that ever happened to the Indian nation. So can black people consider Ghandi to be an inspiration in spite of what he manifestly thought of them?

 

I think his attitude goes beyond a mere blind spot. Because of his stature, his condemnation of Africans is now used against them. Some people think that if a man such as he said the things about black people, then they must be true. This  article, though offensive for many other reasons, is a case in point.

 

So was Ghandi racist? I’m afraid he was.

 

The lesson I draw from this is that we should beware of idolising people because, in the final analysis, we are all only human.

 

The other lesson is that we should  not just whine about racism; we should act. When a case comes up , we should mobilise and make the racist wish he'd never let the thought cross his mind.

 

Rosemary Ekosso is with the Internation Court of Justice, the Hague, Holland. She blogs at www.ekosso.com

 

Please e-mail comments to comments@thenewblackmagazine.com

 

 

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