Stop Erecting Racist Mahatma Gandhi's Statue at Ginnery Corner, Blantyre, Malawi

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As citizens of Malawi born out of black African descent, we are appalled with Blantyre City Council’s decision to erect Gandhi’s statue at Ginnery Corner, Blantyre, Malawi.

When it comes to Gandhi, we cannot deny that he is of historical importance to India and to the world as a symbol of activism.

However, Gandhi has a questionable background and character for Malawi to honour him with a statue.

When Gandhi was in South Africa, in the early 1900s, he repudiated the colonialist structure that placed Indians and black Africans in the same class bracket apart from Europeans. Gandhi went on further to fight for the idea that Indians were superior to Africans and thus could not be bundled together.

In a recent book researched by Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed, professors at the University of Johannesburg and the University of KwaZulu Natal, uncovered in detail that Gandhi was an ardent racist who thought Africans were “Kaffirs”. Kaffir is a racial slur which was used to denigrate Africans during the colonial times. The word Kaffir is now a banned word  in South Africa because of its racial connotations.

Desai and Vahed claim that much of the halo that surrounds Gandhi today is a result of clever repackaging of his world revered legacy.

However, they are also many of Gandhi’s biographers that have shed light on his bigotry in relation to black Africans.

Below are some of the  statements he made showing nothing but contempt for the black African race:

When the British required Indians and Africans to carry passports in South Africa, Gandhi commented:

Indians are hard working people, they should not be required to carry these things. But, black people are kaffirs, losers and they are lazy, yes, they can carry their passport but why should we do that?

In an open letter he wrote:

I venture to point out that both the English and the Indians spring from a common stock, called the Indo-Aryan. A general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.

He also did not approve of Indian men having relations with African women:

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

He did not like the idea that Africans and Indians were given the same entrance at work. He actually fought for Indians to have their separate entrance away from Africans:

We felt the indignity too much and … petitioned the authorities to do away with the invidious distinction, and they have now provided three separate entrances for natives, Asiatics and Europeans.

At a speech in Mumbai in 1896:

Europeans in Natal wished 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.

The revelation of Gandhi’s dark side has influenced African countries to repudiate the idea of placing the Gandhi statue on African soil. In Ghana, the president of India unveiled a statue of Gandhi at the premises of the University of Ghana in 2016. In no time, the University of Ghana erupted and petitioned the authorities to have it removed. Today the statue has been removed at the University of Ghana due to a petition which was set up by academics and students at the institution. 

Quoting the petition here is part of the argument the University of Ghana made:

We are of the view that if there should be statues on our campus, then, first and foremost, they should be of African heroes and heroines, who can serve as examples of who we are and what we have achieved as a people. In a context where our youth know so little about our own history, such statues can serve as an opportunity for such learning to occur. Why should we uplift other people's 'heroes' at an African university when we haven’t lifted up our own? We consider this to be a slap in the face that undermines our struggles for autonomy, recognition and respect.

In South Africa where Gandhi should be revered, there was also a movement which sought to see his statues brought down. This is the country where he lived for over a decade and yet the citizens today do not want to see the statue standing in their squares.

We then wonder why the Mayor and the Blantyre City Council approved the erection of Gandhi’s statue when he is being rebuked by other Africans due to his racist past.

As black Africans-Malawians we will find it very offensive to appreciate the value of the statue when the man himself thought we were inferior. If you erect this statue it will make a mockery out of Malawi’s independence movement which fought to extricate “classism” between black, brown and white races.  

It cannot be denied that the majority of the citizens of Malawi are of black African descent who together fought for independence against British Imperialism. The Indian community who are in a minority in Malawi have to understand that we do not share the same views in regards to Mahatma Gandhi. Yes he fought for Indian independence in India but at the same time we cannot ignore his racist remarks against black Africans.

This is not only a Malawian issue but also an African one because we were both subjected under the same colonial system. Malawians like many other African countries fought against a colonialist system which placed the African man and woman in an inferior class in relation to the Europeans. 

John Chilembwe our most celebrated hero who fought against this system even died trying to fight this oppressive system which destroyed the very fabric of African society along this vast continent. The intended result of colonialism has left Africa with a severe case of inferiority complex which has been detrimental to society-building. 

In Malawi, the case of inferiority complex is also prevalent that even President Arthur Peter Mutharika has spoke on it at the recent United Nations General Assembly Meeting.

The case of inferiority complex has altered the values of Africans into thinking that anything that is “foreign” is better than anything that is "local." Everything that is cultural and indigenous to this country seems to be considered as the last option.

It is thus appalling that a government institution would be in the forefront to promote a racist personality who has no connection to Malawi's history whatsoever. What happened to promoting our heroes who really matter and have connection to the soil of Malawi? 

Furthermore, if this was an idea to bridge Malawians and Indians together in our society, we can guarantee you that this will create a deep-seated animosity between the two communities.

A statue is supposed to be of national and historical importance to remember those who contributed positively to our history in the pre-colonial, colonial and post indepence periods. A statue should be able to be celebrated by a nation which remembers its past as a source of inspiration to forge ahead as a country. Unfortunately, the statue of Gandhi will neither do these things for Malawians other than mock them for being inferior to the Indians. 

And on this note, we implore the Blantyre City Council to reserve the Ginnery Corner land lot for a fitting Malawian hero who contributed positively to this nation. 

Gandhi simply has no place in a tolerant Malawian society which has been peaceful and respectful of each other despite racial differences.

We thereby are requesting the Mayor of Blantyre City and the institution of Blantyre City Council, to rescind its decision to erect the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Blantyre as soon as possible.

CONTACT

Mpambira Kambewa-mpambi@yahoo.co.uk

Mkotama Willie Katenga-Kaunda-mkotamakk@yahoo.com

Wonderful Mkutche-wonderfulmkhutche@gmail.com



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