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Remembering Mahatma Gandhi: Why South Africa revers Gandhiji


New Delhi, Jan 30: On this day (January 30) in 1948, father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi was shot dead by extremist Nathuram Godse, who blamed him for the partition of the country. His death saw an outpour of emotions not only in India but also from around the world. His fight for India's independence made him become a universal symbol for peace and non-violent protests.

Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi's role in India's freedom struggle is well known, but before that, it was in South Africa where Gandhiji began his fight against oppression. The work that Mahatma Gandhi did in South Africa to fight racial discrimination often gets overshadowed.

Mahatma Gandhi was a barrister by profession and studied law in London. In April 1893, Gandhi left for South Africa to be the lawyer for Dada Abdullah's cousin. Abdullah owned a large successful shipping business in South Africa. His distant cousin in Johannesburg needed a lawyer.

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Immediately upon arriving in South Africa, Gandhi faced discrimination because of his skin colour and heritage, like all people of colour. One particular incident which took place at Pietermaritzburg is said to have shaken Gandhi.

While he was travelling by train to Pretoria, Gandhi, despite carrying first class ticket, was thrown out of the train by the authorities because a white man complained of an Indian sharing space with him. It was after this incident that Gandhi decided to fight against the oppression of non-white people in South Africa.

After several such racial incidents in South Africa, Gandhi's thinking and focus changed, and he felt he must resist this and fight for rights. He entered politics by forming the Natal Indian Congress.

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The Abdullah case that had brought him to South Africa concluded in May 1894, and the Indian community organised a farewell party for Gandhi as he prepared to return to India. However, a new Natal government discriminatory proposal led to Gandhi extending his original period of stay in South Africa. He planned to assist Indians in opposing a bill to deny them the right to vote, a right then proposed to be an exclusive European right.

Gandhi staunchly opposed racism and led many protests against apartheid. According to the Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and his colleagues served and helped Africans by opposing racism.

In the years after black South Africans gained the right to vote in South Africa (1994), Gandhi was proclaimed a national hero with numerous monuments.

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