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Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi also known as Bapu(father) and Mahatma(the Great Soul) in India out of respect (File Photo/Anadolu)

On the 152nd anniversary of the birth of the Indian freedom icon, Mahatma Gandhi, a South African lawyer revealed landmarks of Gandhi’s life in his country and the role of Muslim families in supporting the latter while he was in South Africa.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi or M K Gandhi was born in Indian in Porbandar which is located in the northwestern state of Gujarat on October 2, 1869.

Gandhi arrived in South Africa in 1893, and within a short time he became a leader of the Indian community, and worked as a lawyer and activist until 1914, and confirmed in one of his sayings that he was “born in India, but he was made in South Africa”.

“Muslim families generously helped Gandhi by hosting and financing him as he set up his business in South Africa,” lawyer Saber Ahmed Jazbhay told The Eastern Herald.

He explained that Islamic companies at that time were severely affected by colonial oppression and racism.

He added, “Gandhi not only influenced the Indians in South Africa, but all races were affected by his philosophy, where Gandhi showed that there is an alternative to violence.”

While celebrating the centenary of Gandhi’s nonviolence movement in January 2007, the late Nelson Mandela acknowledged that Gandhi’s philosophy contributed to the peaceful transformation and healing of the divisions created by the revolting practice of apartheid.

Advocate Jazbhay, who began studying Gandhi’s philosophy in the early 1970s, noted that “Gandhi’s teachings are still relevant to the twenty-first century.”

He added: “Gandhi began his nonviolent movement while he was in Johannesburg in 1906, and the young Gandhi was invited to South Africa to represent the “Dada Abdullah & Company”, a trading company owned by a Muslim family, in a case related to a dispute over their land and business in Johannesburg.”

Accusations of racism

Advocate Jazbhay revealed that when Gandhi left Johannesburg to travel to KwaZulu-Natal, he realized how badly the Indians were being treated, as he was kicked off the train for traveling first class for white people only.

“Muslim families generously helped Gandhi to enable him to give them the social justice they wanted,” he added.

While many anti-colonial African leaders praise Gandhi’s philosophy, more recently there have been attempts to portray him as a “racist“, due to his defense of the rights of Indians living only in South Africa and the disregard of the black population.

In 2018, Gandhi’s statue was removed from the University of Ghana, just two years after it was erected by then-Indian President Pranab Mukherjee.

Some South African political parties are also demanding that the Gandhi statue be removed from the famous Gandhi Square in Johannesburg.

However, many pro-Gandhi groups, including his granddaughter Ela Gandhi, strongly objected to allegations of racism against the freedom icon in India, also known as the father of the nation.

The extinction of the philosophy of “non-violence”

For his part, Mustafa Mehta, a researcher based in Johannesburg, said that “the concept of achieving goals through non-violence – which Gandhi pursued – has lost its importance in Africa.”

He added, “The majority of people have feelings of deep anger, and most of this anger is either caused by the state’s brutal treatment of its people or economic hardship.”

Meanwhile, Iqbal Jassat, executive member of the media network, a Johannesburg-based think tank, said that “Africa faces a set of challenges such as poverty, malnutrition, unemployment and refugee issues, as well as corruption and dictatorships.”

He stressed that overcoming these matters requires “resolute opposition, which, unfortunately, as is evident in Egypt and elsewhere, has been met with violent repression.”

© The Eastern Herald