S African groups protest racism remarks against Gandhiji, condemn statue removal from Ghana varsity

S African groups protest racism remarks against Gandhiji condemn statue removal from Ghana varsityJOHANNESBURG: Several South African Gandhian advocacy groups, including one headed by Mahatma Gandhi’s granddaughter, have strongly objected to allegations of racism against the global peace icon and condemned the removal of his statue from a prestigious university in Ghana after complaints that he was racist against black Africans.

India’s former president Pranab Mukherjee unveiled the statue at the University of Ghana in Accra in 2016 as a symbol of ties between the two nations. But lecturers and student activists soon began a petition calling for its removal, citing passages written by Gandhi claiming that Indians were “infinitely superior” to black Africans.

Succumbing to the pressure of the protestors, the university management finally removed the statue earlier this week.

The Mahatma’s granddaughter Ela Gandhi, who heads the Gandhi Development Trust in Durban, said she was saddened by the developments in Ghana.

“I think that is a judgemental statement about a person based on one or two statements without giving any credence to statements made which negate the racist slur that has been attached. It is particularly disturbing because Gandhiji fought all his life against the compartmentalisation of people and the labeling of individuals,” she was quoted as saying by the Sunday Tribune.

The Durban-born peace activist acknowledged the protesters’ point of view regarding the importance of having a personal role model to whom the people of Ghana could directly relate to, and whose statues were not erected on the campus.

However, she said, “Gandhiji himself was very much conscious of people’s need to relate to their own before they can relate to others. This is the reason he did not take up the issues that confronted African people in South Africa, for instance.”

“He supported their struggle and their leaders but did not usurp their right by taking up their issues himself. He did the same with Chinese and coloured leaders,” Gandhi, a former South African parliamentarian, said.

David Gengan, chairman of the Pietermaritzburg Gandhi Memorial Committee, said it was “unfair” to label Gandhi a racist.

“I think the lecturers, students and others are being short-sighted in judging the Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who came to this country as a 23-year-old lawyer. He left here after 21 years as a Mahatma (a revered person) because his whole philosophy of life had changed,” he said.

The media report quoted Gengan as saying that though Gandhi had made some “disparaging” comments about black Africans, but it was at a time when he had arrived in the country as a young lawyer.

“He knew nothing about what was happening in the country at the time when he arrived in South Africa as a young lawyer and used terminology that was common at the time, but he learnt his lessons about human rights and equality after 21 years in the country,” he said, adding that people are taking his utterances out of context.

Gengan said Gandhi later apologised for utterances made earlier in his life when he was still learning.

“So you need to judge the man over the course of his life. If one looks at campaigns he launched against the ‘untouchables’ when he returned to India in 1915, then you cannot call him racist…He espoused the principles of Satyagraha and truth,” he said.

Gandhi lived and worked as a lawyer in South Africa from 1893 to 1915 before moving to India. PTI

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