||The Gandhi debate, 27 November
Click on image to view video of debate
Speakers: Ashwin Desai, Betty Govinden, Crispin Hemson and Andile Mngxitama
Date: Friday 27 November 2015
Venue: Ike's Books, 48a Florida Road, Morningside, Durban
The book The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire - coauthored by Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed - is a controversial study of how Gandhi's devotion to the British Empire, his class loyalty to merchants, and his failure to ally with local Zulu people during his 1893-1914 stay in South Africa were integral to his development as a political campaigner. Yet these features are contested, and since the book's publication a variety of disputes have emerged. This seminar will focus on the historical trajectory of Gandhi's South African politics, although current implications of the research for local race and ethnic relations are upper-most in many readers' minds.
Ashwin Desai is professor of sociology at the University of Johannesburg. Betty Govinden is author of the award-winning book Sister Outsiders – Representation of Identity and Difference in Selected Writings by South African Indians. Crispin Hemson is the director of the International Centre of Non-Violence at the Durban University of Technology. Andile Mngxitama is a founder of Black First Land First and edits New Frank Talk.
The Young Gandhi
A biography puts the budding leader’s ambivalence over human equality to scrutiny
The South African Gandhi: Stretcher Bearer of Empire | Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed | Navayana | Pages 343 | RS 595
BY Dilip Menon EMAIL AUTHOR(S) 11 December 2015
Gandhi in South Africa, 1908 (Photo: GETTY IMAGES)
The daunting task before any historian is to rescue Gandhi from the unthinking admiration of posterity. Despite a slew of works that explore his ambivalence over the violence of caste, his experiments with sexuality and his authoritarian style of politics, the idea of Gandhi as a saint who strayed into politics dies hard. Added to this is the tendency to read his life backwards from his status as a mahatma: the years in England and South Africa are rendered as mere preludes to the making of this complex figure. There are several obvious facts that are forgotten in hagiographic tellings. First, that Gandhi, born in 1869, was, in terms of his conservatism in politics, a 19th rather than a 20th century figure. He had many of the political and cultural obsessions of a late Victorian liberal, not the least of which was a deep suspicion towards the unregulated entry of the masses into politics. Second, the popular perception of Gandhi as a Bania, with the attendant stereotypes of bargain and compromise, occludes his patrician origins in a family of chief ministers to princely states in Gujarat. If we keep these in mind, his preference for social order and hierarchy and his faith in the principles if not behaviour of the British Empire can be seen as integral to his politics.
Leela Gandhi’s textured work on Gandhi’s early life in London in the context of an anti-imperial sub-culture allowed us to understand what had appeared merely to be youthful and eccentric engagements with vegetarianism, animal rights and pacifism. His life in South Africa has been well served by a number of books, but two recent works by Joseph Lelyveld and Ramachandra Guha have taken this phase on as central to the making of Gandhi. And two more different books cannot have been written. Lelyveld, as a reporter for The New York Times, had written a classic work on South Africa under apartheid and was keenly concerned with questions of race and inequality. His biography of Gandhi’s years in South Africa brought this lens to bear in revealing Gandhi’s ambivalence towards race, which led to a curious politics that excluded Africans from his considerations as a force for change. Guha’s account, which is relatively anodyne and consistent with the popular view of Gandhi as a mahatma, makes claims for Gandhi’s radicalisation of South African politics in the early 20th century while circumventing the issue of race. Given the current political atmosphere in India where Ambedkar is being resurrected as a radical thinker of equality for modern India, Gandhi’s insistence on a proper politics of social order is presented as reactionary. And South Africa, where he forged an Indian politics to the exclusion of Africans, appears to prefigure his later conservatism on matters of caste inequality.
Desai and Vahed address centrally the question whether Gandhi was a racist; an exigent question for contemporary South Africa where he has ‘been reinvented as an icon of non-racialism’. They make a convincing argument that Gandhi’s ‘political imagination was limited to equality within Empire’ and framed by the idea of imperial citizenship. The 1858 Proclamation of Queen Victoria after the 1857 uprising guaranteed all subjects of the Empire equal rights and guarantees against discrimination. This idea was what governed Gandhi’s engagement with the British in South Africa—that as Indians and subjects of the Empire, they were entitled to rights of settlement, movement and property. However, a crucial component of this argument was the distinction that he made between Indians and Black African ‘kaffirs’ in contemporary parlance. Gandhian politics constantly resisted the attempts by the British ‘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, to pass his life in indolence and nakedness’. There are many ways in which such opinions can be glossed over: Gandhi was a man of his time; this argument was made within a discourse of imperial citizenship, differentiating Indians from Africans, and so on. But there is no mistaking the common prejudice and stereotype that underlies Gandhi’s prose as much as the desire to align his views with that of White rulers.
Gandhi’s arguments against the creeping discrimination towards Indians as South Africa moved towards becoming a republic under Boer control were a last ditch stand summoning the idea of imperial citizenship and fair play. But by 1910, it was clear that a colour line had been drawn across the world, and White rule was not going to give in to assertions of equality by coloured people from Canada to Australia and certainly within the British Empire.
Nevertheless, Gandhi continued to assert that the British Empire was ‘not founded on material but on spiritual foundations’ and that there was something ‘subtle and fine’ in the ideals of the British Constitution. All of this was maintained against the background of the construction of the new South African state built on the dispossession of Africans and the introduction of a migrant labour system that produced profits from mines. Gandhi had little to say on this continuing devastation of the African countryside and community life, and his participation as stretcher bearer in the Bambhatha Rebellion in which Zulus were savagely put down makes clear where his loyalty and politics lay. In response to the White League’s agitation against Indian immigration, Gandhi rushed to reassure public sentiment that he believed that ‘the white race in South Africa should be the predominating race’. And in an anticipation of his advice to Jews in Europe to practice passive resistance against Hitler, he stated that had Bambhatha ‘simply taken up passive resistance… much bloodshed could have been avoided’.
Vahed and Desai are meticulous and relentless in their piling up of evidence that Gandhi not only saw Africans through the civilising eyes of Europeans, but also that he saw himself as a loyal subject of the Empire till the point that he left South Africa. We must study the South African Gandhi as a distinct avatar. It is not without significance that when Gandhi travelled to England in 1909 to lobby against a bill that would deny Indians and Blacks political rights, he was dressed in ‘the conventional dress of a pre-war English gentleman—a silk hat, well-cut morning coat, smart shoes and socks’, a far cry from the ‘half naked fakir’ who was to become Churchill’s bugbear. The fight was for the ‘right of cultured Indians to enter the Transvaal in common with the Europeans’. The arguments that Gandhi was to make in Hind Swaraj about the glories of Indian civilisation alongside his rejection of the European one were part of the discourse of parity with Europeans and elevation above Africans.
The campaign and rebellions of 1913 which began in South Africa’s coal mines were to extend beyond Gandhi’s control (with his insisting as he would in India that strikers ‘had no quarrel with mine owners’) to its plantations, and iron, candle, soap and glue factories and cement and pottery works. Here too, we see a prefiguration of what would happen in India where ‘Gandhian’ Satyagrahas would exceed the conservatism of the leader and assume a radicalism of their own, which Gandhi would rush to disavow. The politics of imperial citizenship, the exclusive focus on Indians over Africans, and a continuing belief in British justice characterised his South African years. It helped establish Gandhi as the sole spokesman for Indians, but did little to alleviate the condition of the local population.
(Dilip Menon holds the Mellon Chair in Indian Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg)
Gandhi and the long legacy of violence
Crispin Hemson (Director, International Centre of Nonviolence, Durban University of Technology)
A response to: The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-bearer of Empire
My main aim is to look at the issues of the continuity of violence from the period covered in the book to now, and the disturbing implications of the racialized divides that persist.
I have differing responses to this book. I am sympathetic to the desire to challenge the ways in which historical figures are given a kind of brand image, an artificial sheen, as if they were greater than human. They can then be used and misused for all kinds of purposes.
I had a vivid experience of this in relation to Gandhi when Ela Gandhi and I were asked to link via Skype to a celebration at a college in Chennai on Mahatma Gandhi's Birthday a couple of years back. We were treated to a viewing of a film which presents Gandhi as the icon of nonviolence before the film takes a tone of nationalistic triumphalism, with an economic growth rate in the 20s. We were appalled by the way that Gandhi's image was linked to a crude chauvinism.
My main criticism of the book is this: while it is of course obvious to us now that leaders of resistance should have worked across the racial divides, no leaders in the period of the book did, except perhaps a few White women, and the question I would have liked the book to have addressed is why they didn't. What the book does reveal though is the extent to which colonialism segmented groups into hermetically sealed compartments of experience. That Gandhi managed to communicate across the divides between merchants and indentured Indians at all was an achievement, even if he had not thought it possible.
Gandhi was in fact shaken by the ability of his own stop-start acts of resistance to communicate beyond the narrow interests of the middle class and merchants. It was indeed a remarkable achievement to create at least that degree of unity across the group of South African Indians, transient and not always effective though it was.
Efforts to build alliances seemed destined for a long time to start with a taken-for-granted assumption that leaders will build up their standing within one racial group before linking to another, leading to coalitions across race rather than a true non-racialism. It was only with Steve Biko that a way ahead was found ' and this was made possible, I think, by the increasing numbers of black students coming into higher education, as well as the theoretical influences of Fanon and Freire.
It is remarkable also that so many leaders of the oppressed such as both Gandhi and Dube at the time felt it necessary to appeal constantly to the idea of Britishness, to find in this crushing and all-pervading imperialism something of value that they could invoke against the remarkably abusive, complacent and self-serving colonial settlers. It reads strangely to me now, but did not when I was growing up; even though my mother was Welsh and the Welsh were perhaps the first victims of this imperialism, she felt she had to accept and propagate this idea.
Rather to my surprise in reading this book I was touched by some of the sections, in particular the great description of the mobilisation of women and the account of the under-recognised and seldom-celebrated resistance of indentured labourers on mines and sugar plantations. Indeed, it is no reflection on Gandhi that we recognise the full range of Indian resistance, whether he directed it or not, and the fact that those who had had no contact with him could take him as an icon of resistance was to his credit.
I was also touched in a very different way: my recognition of names from my youth, of boys who were at school with me from the sugar baron families, that my bedroom growing up had been the bedroom of one of the sugar barons in his old age, in a house visited on occasion by Jan Smuts. I remembered the very ladylike and very moneyed Mrs Hawksworth who lived next door to our church and in whose marvellously furnished home we might on rare occasions have tea. At least her family's estate was seen as relatively benign, as against some of the estates, such as Reynolds, where the treatment of labourers was savage and brutal.
Similarly, my brother David and his best friend at school would occasionally get into trouble together; it was in later years when David was researching the Durban System that he realised that his friend's grandfather, who was also my maths teacher's father-in-law, was the central person in the development of that pernicious and essential element of apartheid.
Which takes me to a key point I want to make, the danger of not addressing our histories. First, that we have not yet found ways of hearing the stories of each other, and secondly that we have not bothered to unearth our own stories. South Africans easily fall prey to crude misrepresentations of ourselves and others; in part it is because of the failure of our schools to teach history, or to teach it well.
I wish though to address the legacy of these separate histories, and to pause at a particular moment when, like now, Indian-African tensions were played on and directed into violence.
In 1985 Victoria Mxenge was assassinated and unrest spread across the city. Attacks, obviously co-ordinated and drawing on elements of the apartheid state, were launched on Indian shops in the Inanda area; clearly they also drew on long-standing resentments. Fana Zungu, a genial, well-connected leader, was asked to speak at a meeting of civic leaders in Phoenix on his understanding of why there was tension between Africans and Indians.
Since I shared an office with Fana, and he needed a driver, I took on that role and was with him at the meeting. A group of civic leaders, some quite conservative, were present, and an unannounced addition (he was operating undercover at the time), Pravin Gordhan.
It was a moment when some of the underlying reality suddenly surfaced. Fana said, "We have a problem that Indians do not celebrate events that are important to us, like June 16th." It was as if he had casually thrown a match onto a pile of dry sticks, unaware that someone had recently soaked them in petrol.
The reaction was intense. The first comment was, "Do Africans ever commemorate events like 1949?" Then a woman burst out how she had witnessed African men throwing a nine year old girl into a fire. There was a general sense of outrage, and for once I saw Fana out of his depth. Then Pravin interrupted , he reminded people that the 1949 riots had not involved Africans alone; White men had manipulated the situation, even driving rioters to places where they could attack Indians.
The event revealed a sense of Indian separateness based on histories of trauma which they had been left to handle alone. One reason of course was the totally different Indian experience of colonialism; there was no common history of indenture with African people. Such differential treatment was of course always a feature of colonial and apartheid rule.
These separate and often harsh histories easily enabled the growth and perpetuation of stereotypes that are still evident today, as did the success of colonialism and apartheid in ensuring mutual ignorance.
However, the episode raised for me a question then about the limitations of an ideological approach , here is the way we should be thinking about this when more than concepts and theories are needed. We understand so much now about the workings of trauma, the need to be heard, the need to address the emotions caught up in these very selective memories. We needed to hear more of the experiences of those present, including of course Fana's own experiences.
My present work involves a great deal of hearing and reading what people say and write about their lives. I have the privilege of understanding from the accounts of my adult students how violence such as that in 1985 swept across the townships. One in particular told how the writer, then a 9 year old Zulu girl in Inanda, experienced the violence. For her it was a terrifying time because she looked Indian, and received hostile comments in taxis and bullying by other children, leading to her developing very early a sharp understanding of what is meant by discrimination. It is only when we have learnt from other humans what these events meant to them that we will break through the crude and simplistic judgements.
Painful though confronting some of the evidence in this book is, it is perhaps part of a necessary process of exposing the limits of the Rainbow Nation discourse, a discourse that somehow communicated that we need not listen to what was hurtful and divisive in our experience, and that resentment and pain could be trumped by good intentions.
Perhaps the way ahead is to be prepared to hear what the experiences have been that have made us so vulnerable to hostile stereotypes. For such work to have any hope of success, we need though to be clear about the nature of discourse. If people to rehearse the oppressive terms of the colonial and apartheid era, the racial epithets and crude stereotypes, they will help reproduce the racial relations of that period even if the rhetoric is couched as liberation or empowerment. As Gandhi pointed out, in other terms, what you get depends absolutely on how you do it.
We need to break through the addictive offerings of our society, the shopping and consumption, the obsession with eating, and instead be prepared to confront what has been uncomfortable and troubling. In such a process I believe we can start building the kind of solidarity that breaks through social divisions.
If this sounds somewhat Gandhian, then so be it.
Ah, the irony
Ashwin Desai (The Mercury) 25 November 2015
THERE have been many critiques of our book on Mahatma Gandhi. Some have made us think afresh about our interpretations. It is part of an intellectual engagement which we welcome for it sharpens our craft and enhances the knowledge we seek to circulate.
But every so often criticism is offered that, as Jane Austen’s Elinor said, does “not seem worth the compliment of rational opposition”. One of those is Nirode Bramdaw’s, ”Cooperation is part of our history too” (The Mercury, November 17).
On the other hand, withholding a reply to one’s critics solely because they unskilfully apply themselves risks being snobbish. While we are researchers, we are teachers too.
Regarding our book on Gandhi, Bramdaw makes two points. First, that we deliberately omitted evidence of Gandhi’s co-operation with a noted African nationalist of the time, John Dube, for the “more controversial and profitable routes of sensation”.
Secondly, it is suggested that our study fuels race tension at the present time. His indictment that the book does not focus on “how these two great leaders worked together” is not only curious, it is a shade embarrassing. It rests on a single, second-hand, self-interested account, dubiously dated, and which is moreover flatly contradicted by the scholarly record.
In support of the idea that Gandhi worked with Dube, Bramdaw puts himself forward as a partial source. He claims to have obtained this information while talking to Sita Dhupelia (Gandhi’s granddaughter). She told him of many conversations and meetings between the two men.
Arnold Toynbee remarked that history is “just one damned thing after another”. The word “after” is rather important for historians. The order in which things happen is crucial, especially when evaluating the reliability of a source’s claims.
Should one take seriously the account of a witness who arrived at the grassy knoll a week after Kennedy’s assassination?
The fact is that Dhupelia was
There is evidence of a Gandhi striving to break the fetters of an Indo-centric politics in South Africa and make common cause with Africans, but it was not the celebrated father born in 1928, 14 years after Gandhi left South Africa. She thus cannot be a primary source that Gandhi and Dube worked together. She witnessed no meetings, saw no partnerships.
Only those who know the dates would appreciate that granddaughter never knew grandfather in South Africa.
If Bramdaw wished to be frank, he ought to have disclosed this fact. He should have stated who brought Dhupelia under the impression that these meetings between Dube and Gandhi happened. Perhaps Bramdaw himself cannot remember clearly what Dhupelia told him. After all, Dhupelia died in 1999.
Dhupelia thus relayed this hearsay to Bramdaw, in all probability, when he was in his twenties. Even if he had no reason to portray Gandhi in as positive a light as possible, any researcher worth their salt would be cautious about Bramdaw’s belated claim. There is a good chance that Bramdaw is confused about the Gandhi who Dhupelia spoke to him about.
In her own writings she relates meetings between her father, Manilal, and John Dube. These meetings she did witness and did speak about. Ah, the irony. There is evidence of a Gandhi striving to break the fetters of an Indo-centric politics in South Africa and make common cause with Africans, but it was the obscure son, Manilal, and not the celebrated father.
The broadest range of scholarship on the issue contradicts Bramdaw. Heather Hughes is a professor of Southern African Studies at the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom. In her study, First President. A Life of John Dube, Hughes writes that while some have tried to show “the friendship and mutual respect” between Gandhi and Dube and others have said that they knew each other and “supported each other’s ventures”, “this is speculation born of a recent political era”, namely “the appeal, and even urgent necessity, of locating deep local roots for a non-racial tradition”.
On the contrary, Hughes believes, there “was little that can be elevated to the symbolism of a common outlook … Political differences made close association – not so much between individuals as between causes – impossible… Material circumstances as well as their own consciousness held their struggle apart.”
Isabel Gandhi’s Hofmeyr, Printing in her book, Press. Experiments in Slow Reading, accepts that there was minimal contact between Dube and Gandhi.
She writes that “Gandhi had neighbours like John Dube with whom he wanted little to do”.
Hofmeyr adds that Gandhi and Dube, “each involved in creating his own miniature ‘continent’, defined themselves in opposition to each other, admiring each other’s projects from afar but deprecating each other’s ‘people’”, “Influenced by hierarchical ideals of civilisationism Gandhi defined Africa as outside the pale of India and empire”.
Joseph Lelyveld, in his study, Great Soul, writes: “What the real history, as opposed to heritage mythmaking, seems to disclose is a deliberate distancing of each other by Gandhi and John Dube, a recognition, on rare occasions, that they might have common interests but a determination to pursue them separately.
“If there could ever have been a possibility of their making common cause, it may well have been stalled for a generation by Gandhi’s calculated reaction to a spasm of Zulu resistance in 1906.”
Even Ramachandra Guha, in his extremely positive study of Gandhi titled, Gandhi Before India, writes of Indians’ “characteristic tendency to distinguish their cause from that of Africans, who they thought less civilised than themselves”.
And that most strident of Gandhian apologists, Betty Govinden, argues that Gandhi and Dube “were orbiting in different circuits and flows of solidarity and interdependence, reflecting different priorities and concerns at the time”.
A plethora of historians have conceded that for various historical reasons, Gandhi and Dube followed different paths and, in fact, kept apart, so how does Bramdaw expect us to write about how these two great leaders worked together?
What Bramdaw wants us to do is to discount all this and rely on his double hearsay evidence of conversations he had with Dhupelia decades ago. In making the charge of “misinformed Africanist youth”, he stands guilty of the very offence he decries.
Gandhi was incredibly clear about why he could not countenance working together with other oppressed racial groups, arguing for example, in Indian Opinion, March 24, 1906, that “this association of coloured people does not include Indians who have always kept aloof from that body. We believe that the Indian community has been wise in doing so. For, though the hardships suffered by those people and Indians is of the same kind, the remedies are not identical … We can cite the Proclamation of 1857 in our favour, which the coloured people cannot … We can petition the Secretary of State for India, whereas they cannot.”
Bramdaw’s second objection is that by denying a close bond between Gandhi and Dube, we play into the hands of African racists. Here his opinion dovetails with that of Dasarath Chetty who argues, also in The Mercury, that our work does not enhance social cohesion. This is an incredible suggestion. Should we not write about xenophobic attacks for example because it does not feed into social cohesion?
What Chetty proposes is straight out of the Stalinist School of Falsification. Chetty, the University of KwaZulu-Natal communications director during the vice-chancellorship of Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, is confusing spin-doctoring with historical scholarship.
Bramdaw and Chetty are concerned that the hand of African racists like those in the Mazibuye Forum is strengthened when we expose the fact that Gandhi was not exactly the anticolonial fighter and vanguardist of the South African liberation struggle which he is made out to be. It is hard to know what they want of us in this context, given the fact that Gandhi himself was quite open about his segregated approach to Indian rights in South Africa. Not expose Gandhi’s views? Lie and say the opposite?
What these writers want is “instant history, quickly brewed for the needs of the moment, which support the hypothesis of the day”. But these studies designed to serve immediate political expediency soon become, as Hopkins notes, “the tombstones of their time”.
There is, however, something else in Chetty’s and Bramdaw’s criticism of our book that is startling. What they imply is that Africans are prone to violence, easily swept up, so much so that an academic work on the politics of a man over a century ago, could easily provoke them.
In this, they do our fellow country folk, academia, and the imperatives of social cohesion based on a frank evaluation of the past, a terrible disservice. They also take credit away from the Gandhi who really did make strides in forging a truly inclusive liberation struggle in South Africa – not the Mahatma but Manilal, the son.
Neither accusation, nor apology for being South African of Indian origin
Nirode Bramdaw (The Mercury) 17 November 2015
This article is a response to the column in The Mercury of 11th November 2015 by Andile Mngxitama headlined “Black Consciousness can guide us all”.
Notwithstanding long held reservations on entering the political debate around contemporary issues in South African society, I am now constrained to be drawn into this ongoing and often acutely ill-informed discourse.
The article penned by Andile Mngxitama appearing on Diwali day, 11th November 2015 beggars a response for its inaccuracies. Being a Black Consciousness delegate to the Conference for a Democratic Future in December 1989, which was a gathering of the broad anti-Apartheid forces at Wits University prior to the Conference for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) and having being part of the Azanian Peoples’ Organisation’s (Azapo) walk-out, should afford me some locus standi to talk about Black Consciousness. Itumeleng Jerry Mosala led that boycott which later resulted in Azapo not contesting the 1994 General Election.
Firstly, let me decry the use of the lingua franca associated with “the Indian question” oft quoted in the article in question. The terminology harks back to and originated in the Smuts’ era when Indian indentured labourers in Natal were British subjects, thus making their identity questionable. With more than 150 years later in the course of time, there should be no “Indian question” per se. We are all South Africans.
One can critically correct the assertions made by Mngxitama on a line by line basis; but without having his writings and my submission before you, is of little effect. So let me deal with the broad assumptions made therein.
He quotes Julius Malema’s argument that “Indians are dominating every aspect of life in KwaZulu-Natal” in response to Judge Shyam Gyanda’s application to the position of Deputy Judge President of KwaZulu-Natal. Judge Gyanda in response said: “I am an African. I was born in Africa, my parents were born in Africa, why should I be called an Indian when I am an African?” This is the crux of the issue. Why should South Africans of Indian origin apologise for their lineage?
It is a statistical fact that in KwaZulu-Natal, the Indian population outnumbers that of both the Coloured and White populations collectively. The KwaZulu-Natal judicial division has 12 black African judges, three Coloured judges, seven white judges and seven Indian judges at present. How can this be skewed to favouring Indians, Mr. Malema? It is then natural that Indians will be more represented in labour than the other two minority communities. By sheer number. And there should be neither accusation nor apology for that fact.
Apparently this recent debate arose from a seminar hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Civil Society on “Black first, but who is Black?”
Steve Biko, the martyr of Black Consciousness Movement who worked closely with my friends Aubrey Mokoape and Strini Moodley would take on many white liberals of the time, defending Indian and Coloured inclusion into the determination of Black as they are part of the oppressed majority.
In his paper, Mngxitama incorrectly classifies apartheid society by placing whites at the top, Indians second, Coloureds third and Blacks last. Indeed the Coloured community were better resourced from the state exchequer than the Indian community and afforded training and job reservation advantages.
He then goes on to make a broad generalisation that Indians exploit Africans in “job and shop” situations. This is a class debate that has no racial determination.
It is the constant lament by labour that they are exploited by capital – be they white, Black or Indian. I know for a fact and can count many Black and Indian friends of mine that have personally assisted their workforce with housing and education, despite their lesser retail turnovers and competing against monopolies.
That the Indian community raised itself from its own bootstraps is nothing to be ashamed of nor apologise for. It is unfortunate that today no well-informed Indian struggle leader is taking on these “daily mavericks” who deliberately distort history to suit their own ends and objectives.
Mngxitama then goes on to applaud the latest offering from Desai and Vahed entitled The South African Gandhi: Stretcher Bearer of the Empire, being as it is the panacea for Africanist elements in society, such as the Mazibuye movement. Not to go into the worth of such efforts into too much detail, it has to be said that all historical writing has to be taken within its chronological context.
Both George Washington and Benjamin Franklin owned slaves and fought against slavery. John Langalibalele Dube was called an Amakholwa or convert and came under the influence of the Anglican Church and Harriet Colenso, the daughter of Bishop John Colenso. Nelson Mandela’s first wife Evelyn Mase claimed in divorce court how he tried to strangle her. In my own personal interactions with Sita Dhupelia (nee Gandhi) she explained at length how both Gandhi and Dube worked together, literally as the neighbours that they were.
This is of relevance because in 1894 Gandhi founded the Natal Indian Congress and in 1900 Dube founded the Natal Native Congress, which was later to become the South African Native Congress in 1912, which is the current African National Congress. Just before Gandhi established the Indian Opinion, Dube published the Ilanga lase Natal, again proving their co-operation and sharing of the ideal that Black people can determine their own future with political organisation and mass communication.
Hindsight is a good vantage point and instead of writing on how these two great leaders worked together, Desai and Vahed chose the more controversial and profitable route of sensation, playing right into the hands of the young and misinformed Africanist youth that are fuelling racial tensions in South Africa.
Mngxitama goes on to cite the resurrection of the Natal Indian Congress in the 1970s as a blight on the growing Black Consciousness Movement. Being there at the time, it has to be noted that there was always the Congress versus Black Consciousness internal struggle. The resurrection of the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) was at the behest of the then banned and exiled African National Congress; which needed a movement to mobilise and gain traction for the struggle within the country. The NIC played a vital role in doing so and indeed led the democratic forces of KwaZulu-Natal into the launch of the United Democratic Front in Mitchells Plain in the Western Cape in 1983.
Finally, and I suppose most agreeably, he cites the unencumbered powers that are yielded by the Gupta family over the ruling elite, stating that they “should not be considered Black, but migrants from India”. We finally agree Mr. Mngxitama, and it should also be stated that while we agree that they are migrants from India; we must also ask which local politicians should be blamed with affording them the powers that they yield over local Black people; those of Indian origin included? One cannot have a corruptor without the corrupted. We must therefore be vigilant not to bundle the local South African Indian community with the likes of the Guptas and others.
It behoves myself and others of similar insight and history to correct these often repeated misconceptions about South African Indians; for by our silence we are acknowledging.
Nirode Bramdaw is a Trustee of the Bat Centre Trust
Black consciousness can guide us all
Dasarath Chetty (The Mercury) 11 Nov 2015
The resurgence of anti-Indian sentiment is a misunderstanding of the Indian identity in SA and what it means, historically, to be black, writes Andile Mngxitama
Africans despise the coloureds and Indians for a variety of reasons. Indians not only despise Africans but in many instances also exploit the Africans in job and shop situations
– Steve Biko
ARE Indians black? This question is made urgent by the resurgence of antiIndian sentiment among the ranks of black people, in particular in KwaZulu-Natal.
Social movements such as Mazibuye and political organisations have been explicit about “Indian over-representation” and even positing them as part of the oppressor camp.
This is a massive reversal from the 1970s when the Black Consciousness Movement held sway – where the Indians were subsumed into the category, “black”, as part of the oppressed.
Just how fraught the “Indian question” is, was revealed recently during the Judicial Service Commission interviews.
It was put to the head of the UKZN division Judge Shyam Gyanda that Indians were dominating every aspect of life in KZN.
His response didn’t help matters, as he attributed such “over-representation” to hard work, thereby suggesting that Africans were under-represented because of their lack of work ethic.
This response angers Africans a lot and is typical of the Indian elite response when confronted with the question.
This response is as incorrect as the question itself, because both are ahistorical and lack an understanding of how the Indian question developed and how it can be solved.
The question is wrong both conceptually and empirically. There is no evidence that Indians dominate all aspects of life in KwaZulu-Natal.
In fact if one took land, property and tenders as a measure of economic power in KZN, then the fiction of Indian “domination” is exposed, and white domination is revealed.
There is, however, a higher presence in managerial positions of Indians compared not just to its “economically active population” size, but its actual total population size – which is only about 2.5% of the population.
This is a big point of concern for the African elite that aspires to managerial positions not ending the racial and class hierarchy.
What correctly angers the African managerial aspirants is the denial that the Indians achieved this over-representation owing to apartheid relatively privileging them, and is often reproduced by preference of “own tribe” when it comes to promotions. Often, Indian managers hire Indian managers. However, this question is not fundamental – it only shows that post-1994 didn’t end the racial hierarchy of apartheid.
In an attempt to deal with the “Indian question”, the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Civil Society held a seminar last week under the title “Black first, but who is black?” A key point of discussion was how the term “black”, from a black consciousness perspective, was inclusive of all the oppressed (Indian, coloured and African).
Steve Biko critiqued the strategy of divide-and-rule, which created a racial hierarchy with whites on top, so-called Indians placed second, socalled coloured placed third and Africans placed at the bottom.
The genius of black consciousness was to refuse to entertain the differences deliberately created by the oppressor to divide and rule the oppressed people. Biko had very sharp observations about the divisions among the oppressed.
He said: “Coloureds despise Africans because they (the former), by their proximity to the Africans, may lose the chances of assimilation into the white world. Africans despise the coloureds and Indians for a variety of reasons. Indians not only despise Africans but, in many instances, also exploit the Africans in job and shop situations.”
The question the seminar had to face was – if nothing has changed since the time Biko defined black inclusively, what has changed to necessitate a review of the definition of black now?
Two propositions were put forward: first that perhaps Biko had been wrong all along, and second, that perhaps it’s not Biko’s definition that is the problem, but that there has been a reversal in revolutionary consciousness over time and therefore both Africans and Indians behave according to the roles prescribed by white racism.
It was emphasised that the sense of “superiority” displayed by people of Indian descent was a result of “Indian consciousness”, which was first developed by Mahatma Gandhi, as so brilliantly exposed in the new book by Professors Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed titled The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire.
Biko and his organisation at the time, the South African Students Organisation (Saso), were concerned about the divisions among the oppressed. They had advised blacks: “By all means, be proud of your heritage or your African culture but make sure in looking around for somebody to kick at, choose the fellow who is sitting on your neck. He may not be as easily accessible as your black brother, but he is the source of your discomfort.”
The Indian response to black consciousness was not even. Some of the founding figures of the Black Consciousness Movement are people of Indian origin, such as Strini Moodley and Saths Cooper.
There is also evidence that in the 1970s, large sections of the Indian population did identify as black, following the influence of black consciousness.
However, there was also notable and regrettable resistance to the idea of being black as seen by the revival of the Natal Indian Congress in 1971.
This revival of an Indian organisation was contested by the black consciousness “Indian” activists but lost by a narrow margin when the matter was put to a vote – 32 voted for and against 30 against it a meeting in Phoenix.
Black consciousness activists left to build the Black Peoples’ Convention with Biko, who emphasised that “we are all oppressed by the same system” and further said: “That we are oppressed to varying degrees is a deliberate design to stratify us not only socially but also in terms of the enemy’s aspirations.”
An important qualification was noted at the seminar – that the context of who was black from the Indian community was restricted to those who arrived here as indentured labourers and slaves.
From this perspective, the Gupta family would not be considered black, but migrants from India. This qualification is important in the context of who can claim land in South Africa.
Only those who suffered together with the African majority can benefit from land redistribution.
This consideration is consistent with the call that black people in the US and other parts of the world where they arrived as slaves have every right to claim land there.
On what is to be done, the seminar generally agreed that there was a need to win back the Indian population to Biko’s black consciousness, away from Gandhi’s “Indian consciousness”.
There is an urgent need to allow black consciousness to guide us again as we reflect on how to build a new society after 21 years of democracy that has not delivered for the black majority.
Mngxitama is the national convenor of Black First, Land First.
Can Gandhi be judged in 2015 terms?
Dasarath Chetty (The Mercury) 4 November 2015
IT IS claimed in the Mercury article (October 15) “Gandhi’s attitude to blacks paralleled that of whites”, that historians “seek to elevate Mahatma Gandhi and Indians to a vanguardist role in the liberation struggle while writing out African agency” and that this does not wash in contemporary South Africa.
The net effect of this revised emphasis of history, and in inferring that Gandhi was a racist, is that opportunist organisations like the Mazibuye Forum are given ammunition to slander and defame the community of Indian South Africans, as though the community constitutes a homogeneous bloc of oppressors; using precisely this interpretation of the role of M K Gandhi that seeks to minimise his contribution to humanity as the basis for perpetuating racial stereotypes and creating the conditions for conflict and violence in an existing powder keg. Evidence of this is to be found on the internet or in even the utterings of Julius Malema in interviews for judge president.
It is questionable as to why such racialised negativity is presented, in a context of wide scale poverty and competition for scarce resources, to state that “Gandhi’s strategy helped tighten the noose of racial identity”. This was the specific intent of both “Boer and Brit”, never of Gandhi. And why should Gandhi, through a 2015 prism, be charged with building a “non-racialism” that wasn't even conceptualised or articulated 120 years ago?
M K Gandhi was a man of his times, living in and responding to a segregationist, hierarchical, economically exploitative and racist white elite-dominated society, but also a courageous, charismatic visionary who was a founder member of the Natal Indian Congress, a historical ally of the African National Congress, an engine room for the development of a multitude of activists that have contributed to the demise of that crime against humanity and contributed to the ongoing quest for non-racialism.
As Fatima Meer in 1996 pointed out, “there are two ways of evaluating Gandhi’s approach to women (and by implication life generally); by the yardstick of modern feminism, and by that of his own times and own society. In terms of the first he may well be judged as a typical male chauvinist; in terms of the second, he is a reformer and a revolutionary”.
In 1944, none other than Albert Einstein said: “Generations to come, it may be, will scarcely believe that such a one as this even in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”
“In our struggle against racial segregation … I came to see at a very early stage that a synthesis of Gandhi’s method of nonviolence and the Christian ethic of love is the best weapon available to Negroes for this struggle for freedom and human dignity … His spirit is a continual reminder to oppressed people that it is possible to resist evil and yet not resort to violence,” said Martin Luther King in 1958. Note that King used the term Negroes, which is totally unacceptable today.
In 1995 Lewis Skweyiya, later to become a Constitutional Court Judge, said Gandhi was a man of “phenomenal magnitude who laid the foundations of the human struggle against colonial and racial oppression”.
And in the same publication, Constitutional Court Judge Ismail Mohammed said of Gandhi: “By any objective account he emerges as one of the towering figures of modern civilisation”. Particularly pertinent, given the criticism of Gandhi, Alan Paton in 1970 observed of Gandhi: “He had many faults … Like most of us he did not recognise some of his faults. But once he recognised a fault, it was doomed.”
Among the many tributes paid to Gandhi by Nelson Mandela was one in a 2000 Time magazine article where he declared: “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 selfinterest with group interest without minimising the importance of self.”
This is Gandhi’s legacy and what we should take from history.
Desai and Vahed seem to contribute more to deepening the dangerous social cleavages in contemporary South Africa than they do for our understanding of history and the building of a socially cohesive society.
Chetty PhD is a sociologist and former pro vice-chancellor of UKZN.
Gandhi’s Unequal Justice in South Africa
By Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed 19 November 2015
The young lawyer fought the British empire for the rights of Indians, but not those of the Zulus he lived among.
Gandhi was 24 years old when he arrived in Natal, South Africa in May 1893, the month in which white settlers celebrated the 50th anniversary of Natal’s annexation by the British Crown. Gandhi was called to the Bar in June 1891 and was struggling to establish a law practice in Bombay when the firm of Dada Abdulla & Co., offered him a year-long contract to assist in a legal matter on the southern tip of Africa. Gandhi took up the offer consisting of a first class passage to Natal, living expenses and a fee of £105. When Gandhi landed at Port Natal there were roughly as many Indians as whites in the colony. Natal’s population was pegged at 584,326 in 1893. Whites numbered 45,707 (8 percent) and Indians 35,411 (6 percent). Zulus made up almost 85 percent of the population.
Gandhi was partial to the idea of Indo-Aryan bloodlines. The Black African stood outside and below these civilized standards.
Central to the imperial project in this part of the British Empire was the subjugation of the Zulu. The Zulu kingdom rose to power during the reign of Shaka (1816–28) and his brother Dingane (1828–40), consolidated under their brother Mpande (1840–72), and collapsed during the reign of Mpande’s son, Cetshwayo (1872–84). The British contrived ways to separate Europeans from Africans.
Administratively, they divided the colony of Natal from Mpande’s Zulu kingdom along the Thukela River in 1843 while tracts of land were granted to amakhosi (chiefs) in Natal who lived relatively autonomous lives in these reserves. The aim of this “ethnic transfer” was to separate white from black in order to achieve settler hegemony.
The discovery of diamonds in Kimberley in the late 1870s required a stable environment for white economic exploitation. British officials felt that some Zulu chiefs were becoming too independent and Sir Bartle Frere, British High Commissioner for South Africa from March 1877 onwards, set out to annex the Zulu kingdom. He found a pretext to declare war in 1879. The Zulus won the Battle of Isandlwana against the then greatest military power in the world but eventually succumbed. Cetshwayo was exiled to the Cape but Queen Victoria subsequently gave him permission to rule a portion of his former kingdom in the hope that he would restore order. Cetshwayo’s son Dinuzulu was proclaimed king when Cetshwayo died in 1884 but this position was largely ceremonial. With the power of the Zulu kingdom eroded, the pace of land dispossession by both British and Boer accelerated.
This is the canvas against which the arrival of Indians in Natal from 1860 must be viewed. The Indian population included indentured workers, “passenger” migrants who arrived at their own expense, and “time-expired” Indians who had completed their contracts of indenture and made Natal “home.” Larger wholesale traders like Dada Abdulla, who brought Gandhi to Natal, and smaller dukawallahs and hawkers, many of whom had just completed their indentures, were spread out across the city and countryside of Natal. A steady trickle of Indians followed the discovery of diamonds to Kimberley in the 1870s and then in the 1880s the gold rush into the Transvaal.
This dispersal of Indians across the colony, their trespassing into white trading and residential monopolies, and their ability to undercut prices and offer credit to white and black customers alike, raised the ire of many settlers. Harry Escombe, future Prime Minister of Natal, told the Wragg Commission of 1885–87 which had been established to investigate alleged abuses in the system of indenture, that the presence of Indian traders “entailed a competition which was simply impossible as far as Europeans were concerned, on account of the different habits of life.”
Gandhi felt the weight of white power virtually upon his arrival in the colony. Within days of landing in Natal, the magistrate asked Gandhi to remove his turban when he went to court with Dada Abdulla. Gandhi refused and stormed out of the courtroom. Barely two weeks later, Gandhi was thrown off a first-class train compartment at Pietermaritzburg on the night of June 7, 1893 when a white passenger protested against sharing the carriage with a “coolie.”
Gandhi returned to India in July 1896 to publicize the Indian plight in Natal and to bring back his family. At a speech in Bombay, Gandhi stated that whites in Natal desired 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.”
This was a theme that would run through much of Gandhi’s life in South Africa. India occupied a privileged position in the hierarchy of British imperial possessions. There was a feeling among some British colonial officials that Indians were positioned higher up the chain of civilization than Africans as they originated from the same Aryan root. The managers of the Empire’s jewel were keen to avoid events in other parts of the British globe offending or, worse, inflaming, national feeling on the subcontinent. In geopolitical terms, Indians in South Africa counted far more than the Zulu, a sense that Gandhi was keen to tap into.
Gandhi was also partial to the idea of Indo-Aryan bloodlines. The Black African stood outside and below these civilized standards.
This echoed a broader global context in which race had become a dominant theme in Western intellectual life in the nineteenth century, emphasizing a scientific understanding of race that focused on biological differences. European industrial progress and the conquest of black peoples were seen as the empirical evidence of racial science which offered Europeans a clear validation of their superior place in the world. Many works of the time believed Africans were less aesthetically appealing than Europeans, even ugly, barbaric and less intelligent.
The Gandhian vision sought to embrace diasporic Indians and claim affinity with Europeans as (civilized) Aryans and imperial citizens. This vision was conspicuous in its exclusion of Africans. Gandhi’s newspaper Indian Opinion, for example, had little to say about Africans. “Gandhi had neighbors like John Dube with whom he wanted little to do,” writes Isabel Hofmeyr, in her book Gandhi’s Printing Press. While Phoenix, where Gandhi opened a settlement in 1904, was in close proximity to Dube’s Ohlange Institute, “the leaders of these two remarkable communities kept their distance and met rarely. ... Both expounded different versions of ‘race pride’ with Dube involved in redeeming ‘Africa’ and Gandhi in nurturing ‘India.’”
During his years in South Africa, Gandhi sought to ingratiate himself with Empire and its mission.
During his years in South Africa, Gandhi sought to ingratiate himself with Empire and its mission. In doing so, he not only rendered African exploitation and oppression invisible, but was, on occasion, a willing part of their subjugation and racist stereotyping. This is not the Gandhi spoken of in hagiographic speeches by politicians more than a century later. This is a different man picking his way through the dross of his time; not just any time, but the height of colonialism; not through any country, but a land that was witness to three centuries of unremitting conquest, brutality and racial bloodletting.
Over the decades the complexities, ironies and blemishes of Gandhi’s South African years have been smothered to serve the political expediencies of the day. Commemorating Gandhi is part of a vigorous debate in post-apartheid South Africa about “history and heritage, ‘truth’ and ‘lies,’ and memory and make-believe.” The cultural historian Annie Coombes asks us to consider seriously how best to represent national history through cultural institutions and monuments because elites tend to invent stories and historical figures which are seen as the glue to reconcile competing interests in transforming societies. While Coombes calls for an understanding of South Africa’s past that goes beyond a simple binary between apartheid and resistance, Gandhi has been reinvented as an icon of non-racialism and as one of the foremost fighters against segregation.
While a corpus of critical work on Gandhi has emerged over the years, individually, these works have done little to dent the overwhelming storyline of his heroism—of an individual who slowly but inexorably transformed into a Mahatma by the time he left the shores of South Africa in 1914.
Excerpts from The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer Of Empire, by Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed. ©2016 Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed. Published by Navayana Publishing Pvt Ltd. and in the USA by Stanford University Press in hardcover, paperback and digital formats, sup.org.
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