‘South African Muslims helped Gandhi fight against injustice’

By Hassan Isilow


JOHANNESBURG (AA): On the 152nd birth anniversary of India’s freedom icon Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, popularly known as Mahatma Gandhi, on Saturday, a South African lawyer recalled the contribution of Muslim families to help him fight against injustice.

Gandhi arrived in South Africa in 1893 and in no time became the leader of the Indian community. He worked as an attorney and activist till 1914. In his own words, he was born in India but was made in South Africa.

“Muslim families helped Gandhi generously through hosting and financing him as he set up his operations in Natal and South Africa,’’ Saber Ahmed Jazbhay, a leading lawyer, told Anadolu Agency.

He said Muslim businesses at the time were largely affected by colonial oppression and racism.

“Gandhi did not only influence Indians in South Africa but all races were touched by his philosophy, as he showed there was an alternative to violence,” he said.

While marking the centenary of Gandhi’s non-violent movement in January 2007, the late Nelson Mandela had acknowledged that Gandhi’s philosophy had contributed to the peaceful transformation and attempted to heal the divisions created by the detestable practice of apartheid.

Attorney Jazbhay, who started studying Gandhi’s philosophy in the early 1970s, said his teachings are still relevant in the 21st century.

“Gandhi began his non-violent movement while in Johannesburg in 1906. Young Gandhi was invited to South Africa to represent the Dada Abdullah business firm owned by a Muslim family regarding a dispute involving their land and businesses in Johannesburg,” he said.

Removed from whites-only carriage

Jazbhay said it was when Gandhi left Johannesburg to travel to KwaZulu-Natal that he realized how badly Indians were being treated, as he himself was kicked out from the train for traveling in the first class, meant only for the white people.

“Muslim families helped Gandhi generously through hosting and financing him as he set up his operations in Natal and South Africa. The overall purpose of those who helped Gandhi was to see him get them the social justice that they wanted,” said the top lawyer.

While many African leaders fighting colonialism have eulogized Gandhi for his philosophy, off late there have been attempts to portray him as a “racist,” for standing up for the rights of Indians only living in South Africa and ignoring the Black population.

In 2018, Gandhi’s statue was removed from the University of Ghana, just two years after it was unveiled by then Indian President Pranab Mukherjee. Some political parties in South Africa have been also asking for the removal of Gandhi’s statute in Johannesburg at the iconic Gandhi Square.

But several pro-Gandhi advocacy groups, including his granddaughter Ela Gandhi, have strongly contested the allegations of racism against India’s freedom icon.

Achieving goals through non-violence losing relevance

But Mustafa Mheta, a Johannesburg-based researcher, said the concept of achieving goals through non-violence has lost relevance in Africa.

“The majority of the people have got such deep-seated anger in them, and the bulk of that anger is either arising from the state treating its people ‘brutally or from economic hardships,’’’ he said.

Iqbal Jassat, executive member of Media Review Network, a Johannesburg-based think tank, said Africa is confronting a range of challenges from poverty, malnutrition, joblessness, and refugee issues, coupled with corruption and dictatorships.

“Overcoming these requires firm opposition which regrettably, as is evidenced in Egypt and elsewhere, is met with violent repression,’’ he said.

[Photo: Statute of Mahatma Gandhi in Johannesburg, South Africa on October 02, 2021. Photographer: Hassan Isilow/AA]

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