The Journal of Modern African Studies


Gandhi in South Africa

Paul F. Power*

The centenary of Mahatma Gandhi's birth during 1969 (October 2) provides a reason for reassessments of the Indian leader's thought and career. Among the matters which deserve reconsideration is his South African phase, which began in 1893, on his arrival in Natal as a fledgling barrister, and ended in 1914, when he left for India by way of England to begin his main work as an Indian nationalist. A reappraisal of this period is needed principally because there is a tendency in biographical studies and Gandhi's own account of his South African years to romanticise or simplify the record and to leave unanswered questions about the development of his ideas and activities during a critical two decades of his life.1 A reappraisal is possible chiefly because of the recent appearance of Gandhi's Collected Works as a rich source for newer interpretations of what he said and did in Natal and the Transvaal.2 As an effort to contribute to reconsiderations of Gandhi's African phase, this article will examine his views of Europeans and Africans and his protest policies and tactics as they emerged over 21 years. Special attention is given to Gandhi's outlook on Africans and the circumstances surrounding his first disobedience campaign. A close inquiry into these matters helps to explain better Gandhi's role in modern South African history and the nature of his legacy to continuing issues in the continent.


* Professor of Political Science, University of Cincinnati, Ohio. An earlier version of this article was presented to the African Studies Seminar, Ohio University. Research support was provided by the University of Cincinnati.