Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Francistown has a Jo’burg Gandhi problem

A young man appears before a Johannesburg court tomorrow on charges of defacing the statue of India’s founder, Mahatma Gandhi. For those in the know, this case would have resonance here in Botswana.
While Johannesburg honoured Gandhi with a statue, Francistown did it with a street in Gerald Estate. The Johannesburg suspect is said to have been with a group of young people bearing placards that read: “Racist Gandhi must fall.” Shocking though the statement is, it is true that the famed peaceful man took an extremely dim view of black people and there is documentary evidence to prove it. Arriving in Johannesburg, Gandhi started a newspaper called Indian Opinion which he used to advocate for the rights of indentured Indian servants as well as to publish some of the most virulently anti-black sentiments.

He wrote of Africans in this paper: “Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilisedÔÇöthe convicts even more so. They are troublesome, very dirty and live almost like animals.” He made the statement after sharing a cell with black South African prisoners. A variation of the last part of that slur is that blacks are “only one degree removed from the animal.” At a meeting in Bombay (present-day Mumbai) in 1896, Gandhi complained that Europeans sought to degrade Indians to the level of the “raw kaffir, whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wifewith, and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness.”

Although Gandhi is now widely regarded as a proponent of non-violent protest, there is ample evidence that shows that he embraced violence. He supported the British in their war against the Zulu and urged other Indians to follow suit. Upon joining the war effort, Gandhi was made Sergeant-Major and later won a medal for his war duties. Lately however, revisionists have begun to poke holes in his legacy. As late as 2005, a member of the United States Congress called Edolphus Towns condemned Gandhi for his views on black people during a congressional debate. Towns quoted extensively from a Gandhi biography published by Colonel G. B. Singh, a United States army colonel. The book is called ‘Gandhi: Behind the Mask of Divinity.’ At the unveiling of Gandhi’s statue in central Johannesburg in October 2003, some black South Africans protested the honouring of a man who never hid his contempt for black people.

When Sunday Standard first raised this matter, it learnt from then Francistown mayor, Shadrack Nyeku, that the process of naming streets doesn’t entail the due diligence one would expect of such exercise. The process begins at the kgotla where members of the public are invited to suggest names.

“People suggest names of famous people and if the meeting agrees, then the name is adopted,” Nyeku said. At one such meeting, someone suggested the name of Gandhi and received support of those at the meeting. The result was that a Gerald Estate street now bears his name. Apparently learning of Gandhi’s views on black people for the first time, Nyeku stated that in the future it may be necessary to run a thorough background check on people whose names are adopted for streets.

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