Gandhi was passionately prejudiced towards black Africans, as clearly displayed by his own writings over his 21-year stint in Gandhi’s writings during his 20 years in South Africa. He promoted racial hatred, in theory, and campaigned for racial segregation, in practice. In his newspaper, The Indian Opinion, he frequently wrote diatribes against the black community. Of particular concern to him was any contact between Indians and Africans. The following series of quotes, which is but a small selection of his extensive writings on the topic, documents Gandhi’s intense hatred for equal treatment of blacks and Indians, whether in culture or under the law. Indeed, his efforts to improve the status of the Indian community in South Africa were primarily focused on ensuring Africans were treated worse than Indians. His goal, thus was greater social inequality rather than universal equality.
All quotes taken from Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG).
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. 1, p. 410
Sept. 24, 1903: “We believe as much in the purity of race as we think they do… We believe also that the white race of South Africa should be the predominating race.” — Vol. 3, p. 256
Feb. 15, 1904: “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.” — Vol. 3, p. 429
Sept. 5, 1905: “The decision to open the school for all Coloured children is unjust to the Indian community, and is a departure from the assurance given… that the school will be reserved for Indian children only.” — Vol. 4, p. 402
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. 6, p. 276
Feb. 29, 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. 8, p. 167
Mar. 7, 1908: “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.” — Vol. 8, p. 198
Mar. 7, 1908: “Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilised – the convicts even more so…. The reader can easily imagine the plight of the poor Indian thrown into such company!” — Vol. 8, p. 199
Jan. 16, 1909: “I have, though, resolved in my mind on an agitation to ensure that Indian prisoners are not lodged with Kaffirs…. I observed with regret that some Indians were happy to sleep in the same room as the Kaffirs…. 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.” — Vol. 9, p. 257
Jan. 23, 1909: “I acquainted the Governor with what had happened and told him there was urgent need for separate lavatories for Indians. I also told him that Indian prisoners should never be lodged with Kaffirs. The Governor immediately issued an order for a lavatory for Indians to be sent on from the Central Gaol. Thus, from the next day the difficulty about lavatories disappeared.” — Vol. 9, p. 270
June 5, 1909: “I received from General Smuts two books on religion, and I inferred from this that it was not under his orders that I had been subjected to hardships, but that it was the result of his negligence and that of others, as also a consequence of the fact that we are equated with the Kaffirs.” — Vol. 9, p. 355
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. 10, p. 414
The term “Kaffir” is a pejorative South African term for black people which is equivalent to the ‘n’ word. Use of this term has been a criminal offense in South Africa since 1975. Despite always using it to describe black Africans, Gandhi was fully aware of the offensive nature of the word. This is demonstrated by Gandhi’s comment during a religious conflict in India, when he said: “If ‘Kaffir’ is a term of opprobrium, how much more so is Chandal?” [CWMG, Vol. 28, p. 62] “Chandal” is a racist term for low-caste Hindus.