Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa Notes: Know Early Life & Timeline

By Naveen Singh|Updated : September 26th, 2019

One of the greatest leaders that the world has ever seen, Mahatma Gandhi, was a political figure, a social and political reformer, a humanist, a visionary and a spiritual leader, who took the country on the road to freedom. Gandhi, popularly known as the Mahatma, not only led the freedom struggle in India but also performed a pivotal role in the struggle of the Indians for civil rights in South Africa.

The ideological concepts with which Gandhi revolutionized the Indian political scenario were molded to a large extent in South Africa. The celebrated notion of satyagraha emerged as a consequence of various influences that worked on him. He extensively read religious books on Hinduism, like the Bhagwat Gita, and Christianity in South Africa.

Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa

The works of Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, John Ruskin and Ralph Waldo, also had significant influences on his thoughts. The notion of the Non-Cooperation Movement, as a civilian weapon to fight governmental tyranny, was discussed by all these major writers, but it was Gandhi who gave practical shape to the concept.


Life in South Africa

The story of MK Gandhi started in 1893 when a 25 yr old barrister began a struggle of Indians against racial discrimination.

1890 was a period when Indian labour to South Africa had started. The labourers were called to work in sugar farms, following them were Indian merchants and traders. A third group who lived was ex labourers whose contract had ended and they lived with their children. All of them had no access to education.

It was at this time that MK Gandhi an English educated barrister came to South Africa. Young Gandhi hadn’t faced overt racism at any point in his life either in India or England. But when he was in South Africa he had tolerated racism from hotel owners, railways and even other South Africans.


Timeline of Events in South Africa:

  1. Reached South Africa in 1893 to work out legal problems of Dadu Abdullah, a Gujarat merchant.
  2. The issue of which his South African struggle began was the proposed bill of the Natal government to disfranchise Indians at natal.
  3. The first phase of his struggle was during 1894-1906 with constitutional methods. His second phase of struggle was during 1906-1914 with satyagraha as the main method.
  4. Formed Indian Natal organization Natal Indian Congress in 1893.
  5. He organised the Indian Ambulance Corps for the British during the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899. So that British could understand humanity but the ethnic discrimination and torture continued on Indians.


  1. Started a weekly Indian opinion in 1903.
  2. Formed “Passive Resistance Association’ in 1907 to boycott permit offices associated with registration issue.
  3. He set up Phoenix Farm near Durban where Gandhi trained his cadre for peaceful restraint or non-violent Satyagraha. This farm considered as the birthplace of Satyagraha.
  4. He also set up another farm which was called Tolstoy Farm which is considered as the place where Satyagraha was moulded into a weapon of protest.
  5. Suspended ‘satyagraha’ for the time being on the assurance of Gen. Smuts to repeal the registration law but later Gen. Smuts went back on his words & this created great indignation to the people against him.
  6. The first non-violent Satyagraha campaign of Mahatma Gandhi was organised in September 1906 to protest against the Transvaal Asiatic ordinance which was constituted against the local Indians. After that, he also held Satyagraha against the Black Act in June 1907.
  7. He was sentenced to jail for organising the non-violent movement in 1908 but after meeting with General Smuts who was a British Commonwealth statesman, was released.
  8. He was sentenced to a three-month jail in Volkshurst and Pretoria in 1909. After release, he went to London to seek the assistance of the Indian community there but his effort was in vain.
  9. Finally, he got package deal signed according to which marriage performed according to Indian rites were declared legal, a poll tax of 3 pounds on freed laboured was abolished and a domicile certificate was now required only to enter Union of South Africa.
  10. In 1913, he fought against the override of non-Christian marriages.
  11. He organised another Satyagraha movement in Transvaal against the oppression that Indian minors were suffering from. He led around 2,000 Indians across the Transvaal border.
  12. Issues against which Gandhi Fought.
    • Bill to disfranchise Indians in the process of being passed.
    • Legislation making it compulsory for Indians to take out certificates of registration which held their fingerprints.
    • A poll tax of 3 pounds imposed on all ex-indentured Indians.

The non-violent civil disobedience was first applied in South Africa and this great experiment would now be needed in the Indian subcontinent. The title of Mahatma was given to him by his friend Pranjivan Mehta.

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