Thursday, January 10, 2013

Gandhi in South Africa

Johannesburg from Carlton Center Office Tower
After Zimbabwe, we returned to South Africa with time for a quick tour of Johannesburg before our flight to the US. We rode an express elevator to the top of the tallest building with a view of the city and a museum with photos of Gandhi, who with Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, is one of Johannesburg's most famous citizens. Later, we visited the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi right in the center of Johannesburg.
I learned that after earning his law degree in London, Gandhi came to South Africa when he was 24 years old in 1893. The first Indian lawyer in the racially divided country, he became a champion for his fellow Indians, who were despised by white South Africans.

A week after he arrived, Gandhi learned about this racial prejudice firsthand when he purchased a first class train ticket for the train. During the trip a white passenger complained of having to ride in the same compartment as a “coolie.” Gandhi was ordered to move to third class. When he refused, he was kicked off the train. That was a turning point for the young lawyer.
Gandhi in his law robes, Johannesburg
Gandhi protested discriminatory legislation both in the courts and in the streets. From 1903-1910, he kept his law office hear the courts, in Government Square, now called Gandhi Square. He was arrested in sent to prison for in 1908.   
Gandhi in S. Africa, 1913
By the time he left South Africa forever in 1914, he had developed his famous doctrine of Satyagraha (Soul Force), a philosophy of resisting oppression based on the peaceful refusal to cooperate with unjust laws, which became the basis for the nonviolent resistance used in the US Civil Rights and the Anti-War movements.

Returning to India after 21 years in Johannesburg, Gandhi put his legal career behind him and dedicated himself to India’s struggle for freedom from Great Britain. He eventually became known in his country and around the world as Mahatma, “Great Soul.”

It's interesting how often we end up honoring the very people we once saw fit to persecute.