Gandhi and South African Blacks

Note: All quotes are direct quotations from “The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi,” here abbreviated as “CWMG.” All grammatical errors and misspellings are the responsibility of Mohandas Gandhi, the original author, and are preserved for historical consistency.

Before Dec. 19, 1894
“A general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.” ~ Vol. I, p. 193

Before May 5, 1895
“In the face, too, of financial operations, the success of which many of their detractors would envy, one fails to understand the agitation which would place the operators in the same category as the half-heathen Native and confine him to Locations, and subject him to the harsher laws by which the Transvaal Kaffir is governed.” ~ Vol. I, pp. 224-225

Before May 5, 1895
“When one reflects that the conception of Brahmanism, with its poetic and mysterious mythology, took its rise in the land of the ‘Coolie trader,’ that in that land 24 centuries ago, the almost divine Buddha taught and practised the glorious doctrine of self-sacrifice, and that it was from the plains and mountains of that weird old country that we have derived the fundamental truths of the very language we speak, one cannot but help regretting that the children of such a race should be treated as equals of the children of black heathendom and outer darkness. Those who, for a few moments, have stayed to converse with the Indian trader have been, perhaps, surprised to find they are speaking to a scholar and a gentleman…. And it is the sons of this Land of light who are despised as Coolies, and treated as Kaffirs.” ~ Vol. I, p. 225

Before May 5, 1895
“So far as the feeling has been expressed, it is to degrade the Indian to the position of the Kaffir.” ~ Vol. I, p. 229

Aug. 14, 1896
“The Attorney-General of Natal wants to keep the Indians for ever ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water.’ We are classed with the natives of South Africa - Kaffir race.” ~ Vol. I, p. 364

Sept. 26, 1896
“Ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire to degrade us 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 wife with and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness.” ~ Vol. I, pp. 409-410

Sept. 26, 1896
“While, in other parts of South Africa, it is the railway officials who make the lot of the 1st and 2nd class passengers on the railway intolerable, the Transvaal people have gone one better in that there the law prohibits the Indians from travelling 1st or 2nd class. They are, irrespective of position, huddled together in the same compartment with the natives of South Africa.” ~ Vol. I, p. 415

Oct. 17, 1896
“A picnic party of European children used Indian and Kaffir boys as targets and shot bullets into their faces, hurting several inoffensive children. So deep-seated is the hatred that children have begun instinctively to look down upon Indians.” ~ Vol. I, p. 421

Oct. 26, 1896
“There is a bye-law in Durban which requires registration of coloured servants. This rule may be, and perhaps is, necessary for the Kaffirs who would not work, but absolutely useless with regard to the Indians. But the policy is to class the Indian with the Kaffir whenever possible.” ~ Vol. I, p. 435

Before May 27, 1899
“Your Petitioner has seen the Location intended to be used by the Indians. It would place them, who are undoubtedly infinitely superior to the Kaffirs, in close proximity to the latter.” ~ Vol. II, p. 270

Mar. 27, 1902
“All the anti-Indian laws in both the Colonies are in full force; under them, in the Transvaal, the Indians cannot own land or trade except in Locations, and must, like the Kaffirs, hold travelling and other passes.” ~ Vol. II, p. 453

Mar. 16, 1903
“The bye-law has its origin in the alleged or real, impudent and, in some cases, indecent behaviour of the Kaffirs. But, whatever the charges are against the British Indians, no one has ever whispered that the Indians behave otherwise than as decent men. But, as it is the wont in this part of the world, they have been dragged down with the Kaffir without the slightest justification.” ~ Vol. III, pp. 32-33

May 24, 1903
“The £3 tax is merely a penalty for wearing the brown skin and it would appear that, whereas Kaffirs are taxed because they do not work at all or sufficiently, we are to be taxed evidently because we work too much, the only thing in common between the two being the absence of the white skin.” ~ Vol. III, p. 74

Feb. 11, 1904
“I venture to write you regarding the shocking state of the Indian Location. The rooms appear to be overcrowded beyond description. The sanitary service is very irregular, and many of the residents of the Location have been to my office to complain that the sanitary condition is far worse than before. There is, too, a very large Kaffir population in the Location for which really there is no warrant.” ~ Vol. III, p. 427

Feb. 15, 1904
“I am extremely obliged to you for having paid a visit last Saturady to the Indian Location and for the interest you are taking in the proper sanitation of the site. The more I think of it, the uglier the situation appears to me, and I think that, if the Town Council takes up a position of non possumus, it will be an abdication of its function, and I do respectfully say that nothing can justify the Public Health Committee in saying that neither overcrowding nor insanitation could be helped. I feel convinced that every minute wasted over the matter merely hastens a calamity for Johannesburg and that through absolutely no fault of the British Indians. Why, of all places in Johannesburg, the Indian Location should be chosen for dumping down all the kaffirs of the town passes my comprehension.” ~ Vol. III, p. 428

Feb. 15, 1904
“Of course, under my suggestion, the Town Council must withdraw the Kaffirs from the Location. About this mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians, I must confess I feel most strongly. I think it is very unfair to the Indian population and it is an undue tax on even the proverbial patience of my countrymen.” ~ Vol. III, p. 429

Apr. 30, 1904
“The Orange River Colony has entirely closed its gates against the Indians from the Transvaal. The Cape and Natal admit him under severe restrictions which have no scientific meaning. For instance, an Indian may be sharing the same compartment with a Kaffir. As soon, however, as the train bringing the passengers reaches the Natal border, the Indian is obliged to undergo 5 days’ quarantine before entering the Colony, whereas the Kaffir is permitted to do so without let or hindrance.” ~ Vol. III, p. 482

Jan. 10, 1904
“A correspondent from Warmbaths in the Transvaal writes to us in Gujarati, complaining that the authorities do not provide facilities for British Indians to make use of these famous healing waters. He says that, if any Indian wants to make use of them, he is merely directed to go to the rooms set apart for the Kaffirs. It appears that he offered to build a place for Indians, but the offer was not entertained. We are sure that, if there is any truth in the statement made by our correspondent, the Government will remedy the difficulty at once, and provide suitable facility for those Indians who may wish to make use of these waters.” ~ Vol. IV, p. 88

Mar. 12, 1904
“In South Africa, on the other hand, there are things which the white man would not do, and the Kaffir could not do. It has, therefore, been possible for the Indians to live in South Africa.” ~ Vol. IV, p. 129

Mar. 29, 1905
“Thus, the whites have begun to feel the need for Indian labour right from the beginning, for the Kaffirs are of no use and all the available Chinese are absorbed in the mines. Indian labour, is, therefore, in general demand.” ~ Vol. IV, p. 258

Oct. 6, 1905
“In all this computation, Lord Milner has overlooked one fact, viz., that, while the Kaffir hardly works for six months, the Chinese have to do so continuously for three years. Moreover, the Chinese being more active than the Kaffirs, much more work can be taken from them than from the latter. This is a very important point, but His Lordship utters not a word about it. Unless this is taken into account, Lord Milner’s figures are of no use whatever.” ~ Vol. IV, p. 312

Oct. 21, 1905
“We humbly submit that the decision to open the school for all Coloured children is unjust to the Indian community, and is a departure from the assurance given by the then Minister of Education, as also Sir Albert Hime and Mr. Robert Russell, that the school will be reserved for Indian children only.” ~ Vol. IV, p. 402

Dec. 30, 1905
“It has, we suppose, become a recognised thing in South Africa for such labour agents to be appointed for ‘inducing Kaffirs to work.’ Some call such a system a gentle coaxing; others call it a modified form of forced labour. We cannot question the policy that has been sanctioned for a long time, and its criticism does not lie within our domain. Unfortunately, the term ‘Coloured person’ is, in the Orange River Colony, interpreted invariably to mean ‘all coloured persons, who, in accordance with laws or customs, are called Coloured persons, or are treated as such, of whatsoever race or nationality they may be.’ It, therefore, includes Asiatics, Malays and others. Both the above-mentioned Ordinances on that account are open to very serious objections, and we cannot understand why the studied insult implied should be irritatingly kept up. Lord Selborne, in his reply to the British Indian Association, has admitted that there are very few Asiatics in the Orange River Colony. Why, then, should the offensive definition be maintained? If it is, in practice, inoperative, the only reason for its existence can be for the wanton pleasure of the inhabitants of the Orange River Colony, who wish to triumph over this implied degradation of the Asiatic races.” ~ Vol. V, p. 50

June 1, 1906
“The Boer Government insulted the Indians by classing them with the Kaffirs.” ~ Vol. V, p. 59

Mar. 17, 1906
“The ousting of the Kaffirs from the Bazaar at Pretoria is wrong; for, whatever the law, Indians have for many years now earned rentals from Kaffir tenants. It behoves the Government to ensured that Indians do not suffer any loss on this account.” ~ Vol. V, p. 129

Apr. 14, 1906
“It is not for us to say whether the revolt of the Kaffirs is justified or not. We are in Natal by virtue of British power. Our very existence depends upon it. It is therefore our duty to render whatever help we can. There was a discussion in the Press as to what part the Indian community would play in the event of an actual war. We have already declared in the English columns of this journal that the Indian community is ready to play its part;1 and we believe what we did during the Boer War should also be done now. That is, if the Government so desires, we should raise an ambulance corps. We should also agree to become permanent volunteers, if the Government is prepared to give us the requisite training.” ~ Vol. V, pp. 179-180

May 22, 1906
“It was a gross injustice to seek to place Indians in the same class as the Kaffirs.” ~ Vol. V, p. 226

May 26, 1906
“You say that the Magistrate’s decision is unsatisfactory, because it would enable a person, however unclean, to travel by a tram and that even the Kaffirs would be able to do so. But the Magistrate’s decision is quite different. The Court has declared that the Kaffirs have no legal right to travel by the trams. And, according to tram regulations, those in an unclean dress or in a drunken state are prohibited from boarding a tram. Thanks to the Court’s decision, only clean Indians or Coloured people other than Kaffirs can now travel by the trams.” ~ Vol. V, p. 235

June 30, 1906
“We have to learn much from what the whites are doing in Natal. There is hardly any family from which someone has not gone to fight the Kaffir rebels. Following their example, we should steel our hearts and take courage. Now is the time when the leading whites want us to take this step; if we let go this opportunity, we shall repent later. We therefore urge all Indian leaders to do their duty to the best of their ability.” ~ Vol. V, p. 273

Before July 19, 1906
“As we were struggling along, we met a Kaffir who did not wear the loyal badge. He was armed with an assegai and was hiding himself. However, we safely rejoined the troops on the further hill, whilst they were sweeping with their carbines the bushes below.” ~ Vol. V, p. 278

Before July 19, 1906
“Troopers had to lead their horses, and the route was so long that we never seemed to reach the bottom. However, at about 12 o’clock we finished the day’s journey, with no Kaffirs to fight.” ~ Vol. V, p. 280

Sept. 9, 1906
“Even the half-castes and Kaffirs, who are less advanced than we, have resisted the Government. The pass law applies to them as well, but they do not take out passes.” ~ Vol. V, p. 332

Nov. 16, 1906
“As you were good enough to show very great sympathy with the cause of British Indians in the Transvaal, may I suggest your using your influence with the Boer leaders in the Transvaal? I feel certain that they did not share the same prejudice against British Indians as against the Kaffir races but as the prejudice against Kaffir races in a strong form was in existence in the Transvaal at the time when the British Indians immigrated there, the latter were immediately lumped together with the Kaffir races and described under the generic term ‘Coloured people.’ Gradually the Boer mind was habituated to this qualification and it refused to recognize the evident and sharp distinctions that undoubtedly exist between British Indians and the Kaffir races in South Africa.” ~ Vol. VI, p. 95

Nov. 6, 1906
“Mr. Stead has boldly come out to give us all the help he can. He was therefore requested to write to the Boer leaders that they should not consider Indians as being on the same level as Kaffirs.” ~ Vol. VI, p. 112

Feb. 2, 1907
“It is certain that the Asiatic Ordinance will be re-introduced. When that happens, there should be only one thought in the mind of every Indian: never to accept such a law. And, if it is enforced, he will rather go to gaol than carry a pass like a Kaffir.” ~ Vol. VI, p. 257

Sept. 2, 1907
“From these views expressed by a White we have a lesson to learn: We must encourage the Whites too. It is a short-sighted policy to employ, through sheer niggardliness, a Kaffir for washing work. If we keep in view the conditions in this country and patronize the Whites, whenever proper and necessary, then every such White will serve as an advertisement for the Indian trader.” ~ Vol. VI, p. 276

June 4, 1907
“Are we supposed to be thieves or free-booters that even a Kaffir policeman can accost and detain us wherever we happen to be going?” ~ Vol. VI, p. 363

July 12, 1907
“If registration is made compulsory, there will be no difference between Indians and Kaffirs, and the neighbouring Colony will be tempted to adopt it as a precedent. It may also turn out to be a prelude to compulsory segregation in Coloured Locations.” ~ Vol. VII, p. 395

July 12, 1907
“There is again a rebellion of Kaffirs in Zululand. In view of this, hundreds of white troops have been dispatched. The Indian community must come forward at such a time without, however, thinking of securing any rights thereby. They must consider only the duty of the community. It is a common observation that when we attend to our duty, rights follow as a matter of course. It will be only proper for the Indian community to make the offer that was made last year. There is a move at present to levy a tax on those who do not enlist. The burden of this levy will fall on Indians alone; even though paying the tax, they will get no credit. We are, therefore, convinced in our minds that the Indian community should repeat its offer. We assume that there are many Indians now who will welcome such work enthusiastically. Those who went to the front last year can do so again. Most of them are seasoned people and familiar with the nature of the work. We very much hope that this work will be taken in hand without any delay.” ~ Vol. VII, p. 397

Dec. 12, 1907
“As to the plea that the Indian will not blend with the rest of the community, what is this but a re-statement of the old fable of the boy who stoned the toad as a punishment for its being a toad? The Indian of the Transvaal a branded a pariah by statute; he is treated as such in practice; regardless of the obvious terminological inexactitude, he is indiscriminately dubbed ‘coolie.’ One hears even in official circles such expressions as ‘coolie lawyer,’ ‘coolie doctor,’ ‘coolie merchant.’ His women are ‘coolie Marys.’ As has been already shown, he is accorded no place in the scheme of things, save on sufferance. He may not even own fixed property, although, curiously, he may be a mortgagee of such. He is even denied the not always obvious privilege of riding in the same municipal tramcars and Government railway carriages as his white fellow-colonists. His children are afforded no facilities for education except they attend the schools set apart for Kaffirs. Could there be less encouragement for the Indian ‘to blend’ and to associate himself more closely with the larger life of the community?” ~ Vol. VII, p. 445-446

Dec. 12, 1907
“Compulsory registration is recognised as signifying nothing less than the reduction of British Indians to the status of the Kaffir; as being more than likely of adoption as a precedent for anti-Indian legislation by the neighbouring colonies; and as a probable prelude to compulsory segregation in coloured locations.” ~ Vol. VII, p. 447

Feb. 2, 1908
“The British rulers take us to be so lowly and ignorant that they assume that, like the Kaffirs who can be pleased with toys and pins, we can also be fobbed off with trinkets.” ~ Vol. VIII, p. 167

July 3, 1908
“We were then Marched off to a prison intended for Kaffirs. There, our garments were stamped with the letter ‘N,’ which meant that we were being classed with the Natives. We were all prepared for hardships, but not quite for this experience. We could understand not being classed with the whites, but to be placed on the same level with the Natives seemed too much to put up with. I then felt that Indians had not launched on passive resistance too soon. Here was further proof that the obnoxious law was intended to emasculate the Indians.” ~ Vol. VIII, p. 198

July 3, 1907
“Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilised - the convicts even more so. They are troublesome, very dirty and live almost like animals. Each ward contains nearly 50 to 60 of them. They often started rows and fought among themselves. The reader can easily imagine the plight of the poor Indian thrown into such company!” ~ Vol. VIII, p. 199

Mar. 21, 1908
“It is thus clear that both Kaffirs and Europeans get food suited to their tastes. The poor Indians - nobody bothers about them! They cannot get the food they want. If they are given European diet, the whites will feel insulted. In any case, why should the gaol authorities bother to find out the normal Indian fare? There is nothing for it but to let ourselves be classed with the Kaffirs and starve.” ~ Vol. VIII, pp. 218-19

Jan. 16, 1909
“As soon as we rose the following day, I was taken to where the other prisoners were lodged, so that I had no chance to complain to the Governor about what had happened. I have, though, resolved in my mind on an agitation to ensure that Indian prisoners are not lodged with Kaffirs or others.” ~ Vol. IX, p. 257

Jan. 16, 1909
“I observed with regret that some Indians were happy to sleep in the same room as the Kaffirs, the reason being that they hoped there for a secret supply of tobacco, etc. This is a matter of shame to us. We may entertain no aversion to Kaffirs, but we cannot ignore the fact that there is no common ground between them and us in the daily affairs of life. Moreover, those who wish to sleep in the same room with them have ulterior motives for doing so. Obviously, we ought to abandon such notions if we want to make progress.” ~ Vol. IX, p. 257

Jan. 23, 1909
“Some of the prisoners are found to suffer from diseases like syphilis, and therefore everyone of them has his genitals examined. For this purpose, the prisoners are totally undressed, while being examined. Unlike the others, Kaffirs are kept standing undressed for nearly 15 minutes so as to save the physician’s time. Indian prisoners are made to lower their breeches only when the physician approaches them. The other garments have to be removed in advance. Almost every Indian resents having to lower his breeches, but most of them do not create any difficulty in the interest of our movement, though at heart they feel ill at ease. I told the physician about this.” ~ Vol. IX, p. 272

Jan. 23, 1909
“Prisons are generally kept very clean. If this were not so, there would be epidemics before long. But there is also lack of cleanliness in some respects. Blankets are constantly interchanged. A blanket that has been used by the dirtiest of Kaffirs may later fall to an Indian’s lot.” ~ Vol. IX, p. 274

Jan. 30, 1909
“First, why should we bear such hardships, submit ourselves, for instance, to the restrictions of gaol life, wear coarse and ungainly dress, eat food which is hardly food, starve ourselves, suffer being kicked by the warder, live among the Kaffirs, do every kind of work, whether we like it or not, obey a warder who is only good enough to be our servant, be unable to receive any friends or write letters, go without things that we may need, and sleep in company with robbers and thieves? Better die than suffer this. Better pay the fine than go to gaol.” ~ Vol. IX, p. 292

July 16, 1909
“The labour required of them is generally of a severe character. Indians who have never lifted a heavy weight or done any spadde work have been put to wheeling heavily loaded barrows, digging holes repairing roads, etc., side by side with Kaffir convicts of the worst type.” ~ Vol. IX, p. 422

Oct. 8, 1909
“We do not get there the food that we are used to, and are classified with the Kaffirs.” ~ Vol. X, p. 158

Dec. 2, 1910
“Some Indians do have contacts with Kaffir women. I think such contacts are fraught with grave danger. Indians would do well to avoid them altogether.” ~ Vol. X, p. 414

Mar. 10, 1911
“I do not think that there need be any worry about police officer. If the Regulations provide for Kaffir Police, we can fight the Regulations. Even in attacking the details of the Bill, I think we should be very careful not to trouble ourselves with what may be remedied by Regulation.” ~ Vol. XI, p. 266