…. Gandhi started a weekly newspaper in June 1903 at Durban called Indian Opinion. The paper started with a few stated objectives, including: to bring the European and Indian subjects of King Edward closer together. What was the harm in making an effort to bring understanding among all people, irrespective of color, creed, or religion? Gandhi knew that a huge population of blacks and other colored lived in South Africa. They were simply not in his equation, anywhere. Below, I have provided a few good examples of Gandhi’s racism. In response to the White League’s fear of the possible consequence of Asian mass immigration into Transvaal, Gandhi declared in the September 24, 1903 Indian Opinion: “We believe as much in the purity of race as we think they do, only we believe that they would best serve the interest, which is as dear to us as to them, by advocating the purity of all races, and not one alone. We believe also that the white race in South Africa should be the predominating race…” (CWMG 3, #342, p. 453).
In the December 24, 1903, Indian Opinion, in response to similar fears voiced by the all-white Transvaal Chamber of Commerce Conference, Gandhi cited to his earlier petition, “The petition dwells upon ‘the commingling of the Coloured and white races.’ May we inform the members of the Conference that, so far as the British Indians are concerned, such a thing is practically unknown? If there is one thing which the Indian cherishes more than any other, it is the purity of type” (CWMG 4, #70, p. 89). The Indian underclasses evidently did not share Gandhi’s distaste for “commingling” the races.
In Ferreiras Township, a working-class suburb of Johannesburg, the population breakdown in late 1904 was listed as 288 Indians, 58 Syrians, 165 Chinese, 295 Cape Coloureds, 75 blacks, and 929 whites. Gandhi could do nothing about a place like the Ferreiras Township, but he claimed the right to speak on the racial composition of Indian locations. In February 1904, he informed the Johannesburg Medical Officer of Health, Dr. C. Porter that, “Why, of all places in Johannesburg, the Indian Location should be chosen for dumping down all the Kaffirs of the town passes my comprehension…. 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.”
Ironically, the BIA backed away from its persistent demands about blacks from being removed from the locations, because many merchants profited from the black rental income; Gandhi had to follow suit. Similarly, in March 1906, in a clear contradiction of his previously stated principles, and on behalf of the BIA, Gandhi protested the proposed removal of blacks from the Pretoria location on the grounds that was harmful to merchant interests. He went out of his way to shield his vested interests from any encroachment. Maureen Swan aptly states:
He [Gandhi] strenuously protested against the proposal to import indentured Indians into the Transvaal, particularly if their contracts included a repatriation clause. He referred to the proposed scheme as slave labour. But his major concern was evidently the belief that the Indian “problem is complicated enough without their presence,” and that hostility to Indian traders would be fed by a vast influx of Indian workers. That his concern was for the future of the merchants, and not the “slave-labourers” per se, is obvious in that he offered sincere congratulations on the decision to import Chinese instead of Indian workers. In 1906 he actually recommended to the Colonial Secretary that Natal merchants be allowed to bypass the Immigration Restriction Act and import Indian clerks and domestics on the understanding that they must leave the colony at the end of the service with their masters. This was an attempt to break what was described as the “monopoly” created by local Indian clerks and domestics, and cannot be described in any other way than an indenture scheme complete with below market wage rates and a repatriation clause.
His views on Indian immigration were also exacerbated by another bizarre concern of his paranoid prejudice against black people, “Let us have a few of our best men to teach us, to bring the highest ideals with them, to advise and shepherd us, and to minister to our spiritual needs, that we may not sink to the level of the aboriginal natives, but rise to be, in every sense, worthy citizens of the Empire.”
Regarding work ethics, Gandhi held a low opinion of blacks, and even with time he never wavered on this issue, “It is one thing to register Natives who would not work, and whom it is very difficult to find out if they absent themselves, but it is another thing and most insulting to expect decent, hard-working, and respectable Indians, whose only fault is that they work too much, to have themselves registered and carry with them registration badges” (CWMG 4, #152, p. 193). Commenting in an editorial on the Natal Municipal Corporation Bill, in the March 18, 1905, Indian Opinion Gandhi was not enthused with the term “uncivilized races” being used to denote not just blacks but also the Indians. Gandhi was vehemently against including Indians (even underclasses) with blacks: “Clause 200 makes provision for registration of persons belonging to uncivilized races (meaning the local blacks), resident and employed within the borough. One can understand the necessity for registration of Kaffirs who will not work; but why should registration be required for indentured Indians who have become free, and for their descendants about whom the general complaint is that they work too much?” (CWMG 4, #319, pp. 379-81 [my italics]).
G.B. Singh, Gandhi: Behind the Mask of Divinity (New York, NY: Prometheus Books, 2004), 191-193.