Article 3-Gandhi’s Work in South Africa

Gandhi wanted to have a feel of South Africa , the country , the people , the government , its policies etc by making relations with whomsoever he came in contact . He was open to all . He  developed friendly relations with Mr Baker , the lawyer of Seth Abdullah Shipping co. Mr Baker was a God fearing person and a devout Christian . Both Mr Baker and Gandhi used to meet at a prayer hall and would have discussion almost on a daily basis on the philosophy of Christianity as contained in Bible and of Hinduism as contained in Gita . Gandhi also developed closeness with Matilda , his  host ;  both would discuss about each other’s family , children and life in India / South Africa , normally during meals .

Internally , however ,  Gandhi was restless ; the discrimination of Indians of which he too was a victim ,  was becoming unbearable to him on each passing day .  He met Seth Taiyab in Pretoria .  Seth Taiyab was the opposite party in the legal case for which Gandhi was sent to South Africa .  Seth Taiyab was  also a highly respected  person in Pretoria . Gandhi narrated to Seth Taiyab  his bitter experiences in Durban court ,  in train and in the railway coach on the route to Pretoria  .  He  put forth his feelings  “ I am appalled by  the manner in which  Britishers were treating the Indians .  The Indians –  Coolies in no way were creating problems to the white people rather we are serving the   interest of white people in  all possible ways ;  in their business , in governance and in their day to day life of luxury ; we Indians , therefore , deserve a better dignified treatment from the masters . He further argued emphatically  “ It is understood  that a poor Indian labourer does not have bargaining power but people like you – Mr Taiyab Seth –  must raise voice against injustice . It was our right to earn and live honourably”  . Seth Taiyab was greatly impressed by  Gandhi’s concern for the countrymen . He could sense honesty in his narratives and his sincere intentions to improve the lots of Indian people . “ Are you sure we can change the situation here “ – a sceptical Seth Taiyab put  his query .  Gandhu was quick to rely “ unless we act , nothing will happen.” and he was right . No result can be expected unless we act .  Gandhi ,  a true humanitarian of mankind , beyond race , religion ,  was even willing to serve the cause of indigenous  people of South Africa but he had limitations of knowing their cultures , tradition, language etc . Also in terms of priority , Indians came first .

Impressed by Gandhi’s concern  ,  Seth Taiyab called a  meeting of all Indians in Transvaal  at the residence  of Seth Hazi Mohammad Joshab to discuss  issues  of Indians in Pretoria and in South Africa in general and Gandhi’s plan to ameliorate the same .  Many people mostly Muslims came to attend the meeting . Seth Joshab opened the meeting introducing Gandhi- a barrister from London , his present assignment  in South Africa and his concern to alleviate the conditions of Indians  in South Africa adding that it  was his own initiative and not a part of his agenda for coming to South Africa . Seth Taiyab too spoke highly in favour of Gandhi’s feelings for fellow Indians citing that a person who had not even completed one month stay in the country ,  was thinking for the welfare of the Indian community which according to him was super human and beyond normal human capability .

It was now Gandhi’s turn to explain what he had in mind ,  in what manner he wanted to proceed to improve the lot of Indians .  Gandhi’s argument was simple . He narrated his experience of discrimination by the white people ; according to him all blacks were Coolies in the eyes of  whites including educated people like him ( Gandhi ) . He insisted that white govt has to make laws keeping in view the dignity of the people , without discrimination ; they cannot treat the Indians unjustly ; otherwise their continued oppression will destroy the Soul of Indian people and they would be worse than animals . In the end , he put forth a proposal to form a platform -an association of respected people  who would take up the issues of Indian population  with the white  government and that he would be available for this Association on 24×7 basis .

In the meeting Gandhi also suggested that the Indian people should  learn English so that they can  raise voice against injustice in day today life  .  He offered to teach himself English to willing persons . This was a great initiative by Gandhi . The very next day  one clerk  came to him  to improve his English so that he gets promotion in the company .  After a few days , a barber came to learn English to help expand his business ; later a small shopkeeper came . Gandhi even used to go to their   work place to give English lessons so that their business was  not affected . However , the programme of teaching English failed because of various reasons .

Gandhi had another friend Mr Kotes who was a Padri – Bishop . Mr Kotes had a deep interest in religion and exchange of views on religion and philosophy . Both used to have walks outside after dinner daily . The govt had passed a law that blacks will not be allowed to take walk outside on the road after 9 PM and also would not walk on the pavements , so that English people could walk freely  ( Whites were used to take dinner late ) . This discrimination of not allowing to walk after 9 PM outside was interfering in the freedom of Gandhi and became  a pain point for him  . This  restriction was suffocating him . Realising that Gandhi would not desist to take walk outside late night  and to avoid any untoward incident with Gandhi on this account , Mr Kotes arranged  a letter from a Govt advocate Mr Krouje . Mr Krouje  recommended to the appropriate authorities that  Gandhi  be allowed to take walk outside late at night on his ( Krouje ‘s) responsibility .

Gandhi was now a bit relaxed ; he could take walk in the manner he wanted . One day  he was walking  on a  road which was lying in between the Presidential palace and the church -you can say it was a VIP area . He was alone and was busy in his own thoughts remembering India , his family , wife Kasturba and children , life in India vis a vis South Africa  behaviour of the whites etc etc . While engrossed in these memories , he happened to come on the pavement  forgetting that it was banned for blacks to walk on the pavement . Suddenly palace guards came and struck him ,  threw him on the road and thereafter started beating him left and right .  Gandhi even could not show them the  letter given by Mr Krouje , the govt advocate .  Luckily Mr Kotes -Padri was witnessing the scene ( Church was on another side of road and Mr Kotes used to live there in church ) . He came running and reached the  spot where Gandhi was lying  having bruises all over . Mr Kotes was extremely angry on the guards and shouted “how can you  beat a man without any explanation for the violation of law “ .  He took Gandhi to his residence .  All the neighbours were feeling sorry for the incident . . Matilda did first aid on the bruises and injuries . Kotes too was sorry for the incident . In pain and in humiliation also , Gandhi , however , was very clear . He said “ it was expected . The law itself is bad . The guards were simply following the law -though not in the desired manner – not to permit him to walk on the pavement. Somehow I was not able to reconcile on this law “ . This was another incident which strengthened Gandhi’s resolve to fight discriminatory tactics of Govt in  South Africa .

To be contd

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top