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The enduring legacies of Mahatma Gandhi, John Cecil Rhodes, Lord Denning: Part 1, The Mahatma

This article is entitled “The Enduring Legacies of Mahatma Gandhi, John Cecil Rhodes and Lord Denning, Despite Their Racism Blemishes”. Today’s article is limited to Gandhi as Part 1. Other parts will come later. Other personalities may be added later like Winston Churchill and others. The aim is to compare and contrast why and how despite the uncovered racism of these personalities, their legacies have continued to endure to varying degrees and why for example Lord Denning and Cecil Rhodes’s legacies appear to be more exalted in the ex-colonies in Africa than that of Gandhi whose reported racial attitude towards Africans whom he never had control over has suffered more. Are there other redeeming qualities that should make up for the tarnished legacies of these people despite the racism component in their lives, particularly Gandhi since the legacies of the other two seem to be intact in the main.

This article is not aimed at blunting the edge of the accusations of racism levelled against Gandhi, nor is it aimed at rehabilitating him if in fact that is possible. This is not an apology for Gandhi. The aim is to place in context the time period of Gandhi’s entry into Africa and the background in India from which he came as well as the DNA of racism against Africans that he left in England. More important, two other unacknowledged contributions he made to humanity beyond the “satyagraha”- philosophy of non-violence, will be highlighted here to show that there are enduring redeeming qualities that individually or collectively can continue to cement his legacies. These two qualities have been largely ignored in the law: his contribution to alternative dispute resolution philosophy and to the struggle for religious and gender equality. The discussion on religious and gender equality will not be pronounced in this article, serve to say that currently in India, the current government wanted to diminish citizenship equality calculus of the Muslim minority which would dismay Gandhi if he were to awake now in 2020. Gandhi sacrificed his life fighting against British colonialism and for equality between the Hindus and Muslims in the Indian sub-continent.

It was only several years into this Century that Gandhi’s attributed racism was exposed to the world and immediately, a great slice of polish was removed from his image in the African world, world-wide. Unlike Rhodes whose racism was known from Day 0ne but his prestige in the world of Education never dented as a result, Gandhi’ s discovered racism was late and came to light decades after his death. Lord Denning’s racism was self-propelled especially through his book, “What Next in the Law” (1982) when he suggested that some blacks are not fit to serve on juries. He had to resign largely because of the controversy that resulted from that allegation but he had time to redeem himself through further books, apologies and works. Gandhi never had the opportunity to answer back because he had long died. But his descendants have categorically stated that Gandhi outgrew his racism which allegedly was influenced by his British sojourn, backgrounded by his patriarchal and caste and solid class systems of India.

The time Gandhi’s racism was highlighted earlier this century was precisely the time when there were demonstrations in South Africa about “Rhodes Must Fall”, “Zuma Must Fall” and the monuments of Rhodes were taken taken from the University of Cape Town which Rhodes had founded. It was a time when the young generation were advocating for the removal of all the relics of colonialism and apartheid in South Africa. It was a period of educational ferment across South Africa. This was also the period when the “Black Lives Matter” movement in the United States agitated for the removal of confederate symbols of racism and Jim Crow in the United States, represented through the confederate flag, monuments extolling white power and slave owners and replicas of everything-white-is-superior and so on. There was a huge debate about Gandhi’s racism through this period in South Africa and across the African World everywhere. In Ghana, the statue of Gandhi was taken down from outside the University of Ghana-Legon, one of Ghana and Africa’s premier institutions.

When I became aware of the ferment against Gandhi, my first reaction was: were our heroes like Martin Luther King Jr; Chief Albert Luthuli; Bishop Desmond Tutu; President Kenneth Kaunda; the Pre-Shaperville ANC in South Africa and millions of people around the world who venerated Gandhi’s non-violence philosophy aware of his attributed racism? If they were not aware, would they continue to idolize him after becoming aware of his attributed racism? If they were aware of the stated racism, what prompted them to continue to heroize him? Martin Luther King Jr’s embrace of non-violence as reflected in his speech at the receiving of the Nobel Prize in Peace in 1963 was touching. Did they continue to worship Gandhi because he had other redeeming qualities? I guess next time I visit President Kaunda I will broach the question. I most likely will not have an opportunity to meet Bishop Tutu. The rest are no longer here. But a great deal of my friends have become highly antagonistic to Gandhi after the revelations of his racism.

The background to Gandhi’s racism is straightforward: he came from a highly regimented class, caste, patriarchal and religious system. No person is an island. When you are born, you are born into a structure that nurtures your life for some time. Most break out from these strictures, some never break out. Gandhi did break out eventually. Gandhi left England for India and then Africa shortly after Africa was divided among the European nations at Berlin in 1884/85 with the ideology of racism as the superstructure justifying colonialism which was really the continuation of the ideological consciousness that had justified slavery. Gandhi imbibed this immediate environment. Gandhi “adhered to the then common idea of a hierarchy of civilizations-the European on the top, the Indians just below them, the Africans at the very bottom” (Guha, “Gandhi Before India” 2014 p.536). When he arrived in South Africa, he forged “Indian and European friendships of all castes, classes, and faiths, but he forged no real friendships with Africans” (ibid). But “over the twenty and more years he lived in the land, Gandhi’s understanding of the African predicament steadily widened” (ibid). Books can be written on how Gandhi eventually fared in his outlook on Africans qua Africans in South Africa. It will be someone’s task at some point to do so.

Gandhi’s transformation towards women is self-reported by him in a 1934 speech in Lahore, ” When I was in South Africa, I had realized that if I did not serve the cause of women, all my work would remain unfinished” (ibid p. 534). A lot of studies and dissertations can be written on Gandhi’s work in the area of feminism and the improvement of the world of women. That area is severely neglected. It will be someone ‘s task to research and write.

A totally neglected area of Gandhi’s life is in his innovation in the law of alternative dispute resolution. Gandhi believed that approaching a court by a client for dispute resolution represented a failure on the part of human beings to address the conflict squarely. Litigation deprives the affected parties control of the conflict which results in a coercive decision by the court and therefore not a satisfying solution by the parties. Gandhi resolved a lot of his cases outside court. This was partly the foundation of the philosophy of non-violence. Gandhi’s book, “The Law and The Lawyers” develops a lot of themes on Gandhi’s attitude towards the judicial and court system and his approach to the practice of law and the legal profession. Every judicial system now talks about ADR but Gandhi said and wrote a lot about this alternative lawyering. He practised it. I will have much more to say on Gandhi and the Law in future articles.

Dr Munyonzwe Hamalengwa is a law teacher in Zambia specializing among other areas in “Research, Writing and Teaching Methodologies in Law”.

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