Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Mahatma Gandhi's reflections on Africa (excerpts)

"I do not conceive the possibility of justice being done to Indians if none is rendered to natives of the soil". (Young India, July 22, 1926, CW, Vol 31, p. 182)

"Theirs is perhaps a task more difficult than ours. But they have some very fine workers among them. They have fine physique. They have a glorious imagination. They are as simple as they are brave. M. Finot has shown by his scientific researches that there is in them no inherent inferiority as is commonly supposed to be the case. All they need is opportunity. I know that if they have caught the spirit of the Indian movement, their progress must be rapid." (CW, Vol 25, p. 26).

"The false and rigid doctrine of inequality has led to the insolent exploitation of the nations of Asia and Africa.", he wrote. (Young India, August 11, 1927, CW, Vol. 34, p. 315).

"The question therefore that is agitating South Africa is not a local one but it is a tremendous world problem. …There is however no hope of avoiding the catastrophe unless the spirit of exploitation that at present dominates the nations of the West is transmuted into that of real helpful service, or unless the Asiatic and African races understand that they cannot be exploited without their co-operation, to a large extent voluntary, and thus understanding, withdraw such co-operation". (Young India, March 18, 1926, CW, Vol 30, pp. 135-136)

I should certainly strive to work for the deliverance of those South African races which, I can say from experience, are ground down under exploitation. Our deliverance must mean their deliverance. But, if that cannot come about, I should have no interest in a partnership with Britain, even if it were of benefit to India. Speaking for myself, I would say that a partnership, giving the promise of a world set free from exploitation, would be a proud privilege for my nation and I would maintain it for ever. But India cannot reconcile herself in any shape or form to any policy of exploitation and, speaking for myself, I may say that, if ever the Congress8 should adopt an imperial policy, I should sever my connection with the Congress." (Young India, November 19, 1931, CW, Vol 48, p. 261)

'Truth and nonviolence can deliver any nation from bondage'

Troops from West Africa were utilized by Britain in the South East Asian theatre. They came into contact with "politically minded Asiatics reaching out towards political independence" (I. Wallerstein, The Road to Independence: Ghana and the Ivory Coast, Mouton & Co., Paris, 1964, p. 79n). Black soldiers from West Africa also met Gandhi in Madras (now Chennai) in early 1946. They asked him: "How can a continent like Africa fight down the fetters of slavery when it is so hopelessly divided?" His advice was the simple message he had been infusing in India since 1920: "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." (Harijan, February 24, 1946, CW, Vol 83, p. 11) They asked further: " 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?" He replied: "You are right. 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 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 the other world. It is enough that there is a real moral bond between Asiatics and Africans. It will grow as time passes." (Ibid., p. 12)

He told them that he wanted Indo-African trade to be non-exploitative and "not of manufactured goods against raw materials after the fashion of Western exploiters".

A noteworthy observation that he made to the West African soldiers was about the spinning wheel which he had popularised in India as part of his programme for reconstruction and utilisation of idle labour time and thereby end widespread poverty: "If I had discovered it 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." (Ibid. p. 13)

The condition of plantation workers in Africa continued to receive Gandhi's attention. He wrote: "In cocoa plantations, Negro workers are subjected to such inhuman treatment that if we witnessed it with our own eyes we would have no desire to drink cocoa. Volumes have been written on the tortures inflicted in these plantations." (Indian Opinion, March 8, 1913, CW, Vol 11, p. 483). A couple of years earlier he had complained to his associate, H S L Polak, about "the abominable chocolate", calling it "that cursed product of devilish slave labour." [August 26, 1911, CW, Vol 96 (Supplementary Vol VI), p. 71].

At another place he had written during a voyage to England: " I also avoid tea and coffee as far as possible, since they are the produce of slave labour." (Indian Opinion, August 7, 1909, CW, Vol 9, pp. 277-8)

Source: The African Element in Gandhi (book)