Gandhi and the Phoenix Settlement


Friday, January 18, 2008, 09:07 AM
Posted by Kelci Flower


 Mahatma Gandhi was a capitvating and inspiring man who was born in India during British rule ad educated in legal studies in London, England. Gandhi first arrived in South Africa in 1983 to argue a court case on behalf of an Indian law firm located in Durban. Orginially, he only planned to stay in the country for one year, however, after witnessing the racial segregation, discrimination, and systematic oppression that South African Indians were forced to deal with, he decided to stay. Furthermore, his personal humiliating experience of being expelled from a “whites only” train, depsite the fact that he paid for a first class ticket, and the subsqent trail, in which he was forced to remove is turban, spurred his inner determination to stay in South Africa and help his fellow Indians. The 21 years that Gandhi spent in South Africa before returning to India and fighting for their liberation from British rule were monumental. It was during these 21 years that he started a movement towards non-violence and peaceful resistence that would impact future great leaders such as Dr. Martin Lurther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandella.

The specfic birth place of Gandhi’s non-violent ideas was the Phoenix settlement. The Phoenix settlement was orginially established by Gandhi in 1904 to provide a location for him to found the Natal Indian Congress (NIC), teach others basic survivial skills such as cloth weaving and farming, print his newspaper called The Indian Opinion, and lead others in prayer and studies of social justice, peace, and harmony. Moreoever, in the future, the Phoenix settlement would serve as the cite of Gandhi work camps that were started in 1967 to educate South Africans about unity and togetherness and the first meeting of the United Democratic Front (UDF) which was an organization against Apartheid. Additionally, Gandhi’s newspaper, The Indian Opinion, would expand to provide a voice for all South Africans and their various viewpoints. On Friday, August 9, 1985 the followers and fighters for the Apartheid governement destroyed the settlement and it was not reopened to honor Gandhi’s work until 2000. However, Gandhi’s teachings of the Gandhian Trinity were never forgotten.

The Gandhian Trinity consists of Satygraha (truth force), Ahimsa (non-killing and non-violence), and Savrodaya (the welfare of all). Gandhi used these principles to help struggling mine and sugar-cane field workers gain rights, liberate women from cultural oppression, and fight social injustices and evils. He truly believed that these principles, especially that of non-violence, was the only way to fight against wrongs because “an eye for an eye will leave the world blind.” In other words, he believed that fighting violence with violence would only beget more violence and that it takes a much stronger man to look his oppressor in the eyes and do nothing as he beats him mercelessly. Furthermore, it was these principles that inspired Dr. Martin Lurther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandella to use peaceful non-violence to end legal racial segregation and liberate South Africa and the United States of America from social oppression and injustice.

Although Martin Luther King, Jr. particially devrived his non-violent beliefs from his strong Christian beliefs and connection to the church, without Gandhi’s teachings of Ahmisa, he would never have understood the power of non-violent resistence in the form of protests, marches, and sit-ins to free Black Americans from Jim Crow’s heavy hand. Without his deep understanding and belief in the Gandhian Trinity, King would never have aided in the formation of crutical organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadeship Conference (SCLC) and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which provided Black Americans with a voice and led to both the eventual demise of legal institutionalized segregation and governmental oppression and the oppertunity for King’s “dream” to come to furition. Similarly, although the African National Congress (ANC) changed their stategy from non-violence to violent resistance during the 1970’s, it was the Gandhian Trinity that inspired Nelson Mandella to lead the ANC in their non-violent fight against Apartied. Mandella, like Gandhi taught his disciples, knew that non-violence during boycotts, mass demonstrations, and acts of civil disobience was imperative because the Apartheid government was heavily armed and would use force and kill, if given any excuse to do so. Moreoever, he believed that non-violence showed more courage than violence and would eventually lead to their victory against South Africa’s opressive and racist governement. Therefore, the teachings of the Gandhian Trinity were instumental in molding the beliefs of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandella that would later end Jim Crow segregation an destroy the Apartheid governement.

Mahatma Gandhi came to South Africa as a young lawyer hoping to help an Indian law firm in Durban, and left 21 years later as a well-known philosopher, whose princples of Satygraha, Ahimsa, and Savrodaya would revolutionalize future leaders ideas on how to gain freedom from oppressive governemental forces. Because of the ideas created at the Pheonix settlement and his personal experiences with racial discrimination, Gandhi’s presence in Durban was a pivotal moment in the history of non-violent movements for social inequality. Moreoever, the reconstruction of the Pheonix settlement to commemorate Gandhi and his work in South Africa demonstates the remarkable changes that have taken place post-Aparthied and the magnanimous influence that Gandhi has had on the world and future scholars. Visiting the Pheonix settlement was one of the most intriguing places that we have visited on South Africa and, to me, it fully illustrated the ubiqitous influence that one amazing person can have on the world.

This entry was posted in Class of 2008. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Gandhi and the Phoenix Settlement

Comments are closed.