Great Soul by Joseph Lelyveld – Chapter 3; Before he Became Mahatma, Gandhi was a Racist Swine

Would the revelation that Mohandas Gandhi, hailed as the Mahatma (Great Soul) and Father of the Nation, was once given to engaging in racist behavior and trash talking of South African Blacks dismay Indians?

No, Indians wouldn’t care save the perfunctory protests (some Indian pigs may even be happy considering how they still look down upon Blacks).

You see, these hypocritical Indians (that is the majority of India’s population) make a pretense, nay a fetish, of worshiping Gandhi.

But every moment of their lives, they act in ways completely contrary to the Mahatma’s teachings.

Great Soul

Gandhi, as even you schmucks know by now, lived in South Africa for two decades.

Enough time, we can all agree for a look at how he behaved vis-a-vis the majority population in the country. No, we’re not referring to the Indian traders or indentured workers, or God Forbid the Whites.

The majority population then, as now, in South Africa were the Blacks.

As Chapter 3 of Joseph Lelyveld’s book Great Soul makes it clear, Gandhi was a racist repeatedly using the term Kaffir to refer to South African Blacks (p.53-54).

Kaffir has a strongly negative connotation and means inferior, backward, uncivilized or primitive.

Using the term Kaffir to refer to South African blacks in their homeland in the late 19th and early 20th century is like calling Blacks in present-day America Nigger. Both are disgustingly but potently insulting.

But still that did not stop Gandhi from using it to describe the Blacks. Gandhi must surely have known the meaning because he used that word even after staying in South Africa for 14 years.

Here’s Gandhi in his own words in 1908:

We were then marched off to a prison intended for Kaffirs…We could understand not being classed with the Whites, but to be placed on the same level as the Natives seemed too much to put up with. It is indubitably right that Indians should have separate cells. Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilized – the convicts even more so. They are troublesome, very dirty and live almost like animals. (p.54)

That’s not the only time Gandhi spoke harshly of South African Blacks. As early as 1894, Gandhi was complaining about them:

[T]he Indian is being dragged down to the position of the raw Kaffir. (p.57)

Fast forward two years and we see harsher language:

[T]he raw Kaffir, whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a number of cattle to buy a wife, and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness. (p.57)

In 1904, 10 years after Gandhi arrived in South Africa, we hear him asking the Johannesburg medical officer during the plague outbreak why the Indian area was:

chosen for dumping down all the Kaffirs of the town. (p.57)

Not convinced yet that Gandhi was a racist? Wait, there’re more examples:

About the mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians, I must confess I feel most strongly. p.58

On the subject of race, here’s what Gandhi had to say:

If there is one thing the Indian cherishes more than any other, it is purity of type. p.58

And a few months earlier:

We believe as much in the purity of races as we think they [the whites] do. P.58

If you go by the documentary evidence, despite a two-decade presence in South Africa, Gandhi does not seem to have had much contact with the Blacks or Kaffirs as he derisively referred to them.

According to Lelyveld, in the large volume of Gandhi’s writings in South Africa there are very few references to Blacks. Remember, Gandhi had several White Christian friends in South Africa, some of whom even joined him in his settlements like Tolstoy Farm.

Gandhi’s Betrayal
But the worst example of Gandhi’s treatment of South African Blacks was his reaction to the Zulu resistance (also called the Bhambatha Rebellion) in 1906.

As the South African blacks were being butchered, their homes burned and their men chased into the hills by the White brutes, Gandhi offered his support to the British colonists (Whites) in their fight against the Zulu rebels:

Why…should we fear the death that may overtake us on the battlefield? We have much to learn from what the whites are doing in Natal. There is hardly any family from which someone has not gone to fight the Kaffir rebels. (p.67)

With a small band of Indians and proudly donning the title of Sergeant Major and wearing a military uniform (see photo p.68) Gandhi left Durban to join the Whites as they mercilessly put down the rebellion by shooting and whipping the Blacks into submission.

Maybe, it was regret over participation in the brutal actions of the Whites that led to Gandhi to swear off sex and nonviolent resistance to the Transvaal “Black Act.”

Still, Gandhi kept referring to the Blacks as Kaffirs.

Was Gandhi following other Indians in his shabby treatment of South African Blacks, the original inhabitants unlike the British, Dutch or Indian settlers who came to the land much later?

No surprise then that the founder of African National Congress John Dube was strongly anti-Indian. As Dube rightly lamented:

[P]eople like Indians have come into our land and lorded it over us, as though we who belong to the country were mere nonentities. p.74

Even long after Gandhi returned to India, he seemed unwilling to support South African Indians joining hands with the Blacks there. This is what Gandhi said in 1939:

However much one may sympathize with the Bantus…Indians cannot make common cause with them. p.74

Chapter 3 (among Zulus) of Lelyvel’d book on Gandhi is a particularly interesting one, shining as it does a sharp light on the Mahatma’s racist attitude toward South African Blacks.

Even Mahatmas have feet of clay, or so it would seem to readers of Lelyveld’s book.

Related Stories:
Great Soul by Joseph Lelyveld – Chapter 2
Great Soul by Joseph Lelyveld – Chapter 1
OMG, Was Gandhi an AC/DC?

12 Responses to "Great Soul by Joseph Lelyveld – Chapter 3; Before he Became Mahatma, Gandhi was a Racist Swine"

  1. vjcool   April 25, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    hi SI watch ‘Mandela’ the 1996 documentary, it’s really good. I gather it’s not the whole story, still it’s good and gripping, Responds:

    Sorry, Netflix doesn’t have it.

    BTW, Mandela figures toward the end of Chapter 3 of Lelyveld’s book on Gandhi.

    I called for nonviolent protest for as long as it was effective – Nelson Mandela quoted in Joseph Lelyveld Great Soul p.77

    Plan to start on the IMDB 250 tonight.

    Listening to Hallo My Dear Wrong Number (Manmatha Leelai) on iTunes.

  2. sam   April 25, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    Offtopic: Everyone is weeping at Sai Baba’s death. I feel he was nothing more than a magician. He might have done many good things but why did he let others think he was God? Is this not cheating?

    Why do u think a magician could have got such a fame as this? Responds:

    The Indian soil is fertile for all kinds of garbage.

  3. vjcool   April 25, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    think it’s there in Netflix.. , anyway.. also V for Vendetta.. along with the 250 plz… Responds:

    Just because a movie shows up in the Netflix database, it doesn’t mean that Netflix stocks it.

    When you log into your Netflix account, you’ll realize that some movies appear only as “Save” not as “Add to Queue”…the ones that show up as “Save” are not currently stocked by Netflix but if & when they get it, it’ll be moved from “Saved” to your queue.

    Mandela (1996 documentary) appears only as a “save” and cannot be added to the queue.

  4. vjcool   April 26, 2011 at 2:34 am

    I called for nonviolent protest for as long as it was effective – Nelson Mandela quoted in Joseph Lelyveld Great Soul p.77

    The documentary was a highlight of the quote, i was taken aback by the violence that led from the non-violent protests.. the documentary shows more violence than non-violence.(real footage)

    Did they chronicle the violence of the Indian freedom movement, there really were riots all over..

    sorry on my ignorance on Netflix, it just shows, ‘no save’ or ‘add to queue’, since I don’t have an account due to regional restriction. Responds:

    The soul of oppressors anywhere are unlikely to be swayed by nonviolence. They’re probably gonna laugh at your naivete before they pump some bullets into you or lay the whip on your back.

    Most human souls (the cores) are irretrievably damaged, the moment they enter this world.

    Having a hard time grasping the nonsense of Gandhi’s Satyagraha.

    Even Mandela had a hard time, notwithstanding the ANC’s violent actions because the balance of power was so overwhelmingly in favor of South African Whites.

  5. Aswin_Kini   April 26, 2011 at 2:45 am

    SI Wrote: You see, these hypocritical Indians (that is the majority of India’s population) make a pretense, nay a fetish, of worshiping Gandhi.

    Perhaps you forget that majority of today’s Indians only care about the Gandhis in their currency notes. They don’t give a damn about who Gandhi was or what he did. So, it would be naive to criticize Indians for worshiping Gandhi blindly when the average Indian doesn’t even remember Gandhi till Gandhi Jayanthi.

    As for racism, it is so obvious that it exists everywhere. In a country with almost 809+ castes, you gotta be a fool to not expect racism. Please remember that people who live in US, UK and Europe may speak paeans of how friendly their country is and how racist Indians are. For heavens sake, please do remember that UK, US, and Europe never had such a diverse population.
    No country in the world has managed to hold together people from so many castes, creeds, races, and religions together. America has hardly people from 5-6 major races, yet they have been many incidents of racism. While people compare US racism to Indian racism, they conveniently forgot that US has a miniscule number of races compared to the ocean we have here. But the fact is RACISM needs to be condemned no matter who practices it.

    Coming back to the point, yes, Gandhi was a racist. He deserves to be condemned for the fact. Just because he is “the father of a nation” doesn’t save him from his racist behavior. This is a perfect proof of my belief that Gandhi was an extremely overrated personality, even SI overrated Gandhi. It is true that Gandhi’s achievements are Himalayan, but so were his misdeeds. He has overshadowed the good work done by dozens of other great freedom fighters.

    Gandhi is in the league of the great American President, Abraham Lincoln, who shared a similar feelings towards the blacks. Abraham Lincoln, like Gandhi, was a great man, but his attitude towards blacks left a lot to be desired.

    Majority of this people in the world are racist, face the truth, even You and I. There are no exceptions. Responds:

    You are right in that all of us are racist for racism is just one more manifestation of the hatred one man bears toward another.

    But we’ve noticed that racism tends to appear more often when the balance of power between two groups is enormous. For instance between Germans and the Turkish workers/cab drivers (in Germany), between Whites and Blacks in America, between Hindus and the so-called ‘Untouchables’ in India, between Whites and South African Blacks….

  6. முனிAndy   April 26, 2011 at 8:33 am

    Mahatma Gandhi was probably the Rajinikanth of the freedom fight. A brilliant mix of luck and charisma.. with a lot of flaws, which were inconspicuous to the people worshiping them. Responds:

    Very true.

    We’re increasingly beginning to wonder if Gandhi had any real achievements. This nonviolence, Satyagraha stuff is all total bullshit. No one’s gonna fall for such bilge.

  7. rama dasa   April 26, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Offtopic: wait a minute,hold the phone jack….sai baba(satya) is dead???? now that he’s gone, hindus can get back to worshiping traditional aavatars like krishna,who by the way is a confirmed historical personality (read wendy’s book).there is evidence that there were in fact settlements around hastinapur dating back to the 12th century bce so the mahabharat war was more likely than not,a real event. Responds:

    You write: wait a minute,hold the phone jack….sai baba(satya) is dead???? now that he’s gone, hindus can get back to worshiping traditional aavatars like krishna,who by the way is a confirmed historical personality

    Funny! 🙂

    Not to worry, Indians will find another babe oops Baba.

    The Indian soil is fertile for growth of Babas, Swamijis, Sants, Gurujis, Munis and other esoteric charlatans.

  8. rama dasa   April 26, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Offtopic: speaking of babes,anyone else glad lindsey lohan is out again???she did an excellent cover of edge of seventeen that would make stevie nicks’s hair stand on end! Responds:

    Who gives a **** for that clown and publishitty hound!

  9. boopalanj   April 26, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    “We could understand not being classed with the Whites, but to be placed on the same level as the Whites seemed too much to put up with”

    Should it be “but to be placed on the same level as the NATIVES / KAFFIRS seemed too much to put up with”? Responds:

    Yes, it should read “placed on the same level as the Natives….”


    Thanks, sweetie-pie! 🙂

  10. boopalanj   April 26, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    Being a racist towards Africans were one of the reasons quoted for why he was not awarded the Nobel Prize for peace.

    The above link states that

    “A frequent criticism from non-Indians was also that Gandhi was too much of an Indian nationalist. ”

    and further quotes someone saying,

    “One might say that it is significant that his well-known struggle in South Africa was on behalf of the Indians only, and not of the blacks whose living conditions were even worse.” Responds:

    Interesting piece (your above link). Thanks.

  11. boopalanj   April 26, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    Alas, it is all over the place.. that Gandhi is a racist! I just typed over google ‘Gandhi and b’ and it showed suggestions – “Gandhi and black people”, “Gandhi and blacks”, etc. And there are many links – including ones from Pakistan and UK, discussing the same thing. Responds:

    You write: Alas, it is all over the place.. that Gandhi is a racist!

    True, but a lot of people including SI didn’t know it.

    There are always pockets of people who are privy to some information. But if you didn’t hear about it through mass media like newspapers, blogs or documentaries you’d never think to look for it on Google.

    Most likely, you and many others like you, would never have searched for Gandhi and Blacks on Google until Joseph Lelyveld’s book Great Soul came out.

    Bottom line, information on a topic may exist but if we are unaware that the particular information exists then it’s not of much help.

  12. முனிAndy   May 15, 2011 at 9:13 am

    hmm.. what’s cookin’, good lookin’? Responds:

    We’ve finished it…will upload in a day or two after some editing. Bizee with something else.

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