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Why is Mahatma Gandhi revered in South Africa?


New Delhi, Oct 2: 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.

File photo of Mahatma Gandhi

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 the 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.

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.

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Gandhi stanchly 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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