It is not a new occurrence for Africans to honour outsiders more than our own heroes. In Malawi, the Blantyre City Council has proposed to erect the statue of Mahatma Gandhi to honour the Indian activist who was the leader of the Indian independence movement against British rule. The proposal to erect the statue comes days after the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi. While Gandhi was projected as a man of peace, and a propagator of satyagraha, non-violence resistance, he also expressed disdain for Africans and is considered an unrepentant racist.
In 2015 a book by two South African university professors explored and exposed Gandhi’s beliefs, revealing that he was a racist. The book showed details about Gandhi’s life in South Africa between 1893 and 1914, and revealed that Gandhi “remained true to Empire while expressing disdain for Africans,” the book’s publisher noted. The writers of the book, “The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire”, Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed spent seven years exploring the complex story.
The book reveals that Gandhi kept the Indian struggle “separate from that of Africans and coloureds even though the latter were also denied political rights on the basis of colour and could also lay claim to being British subjects”.
The shocking details revealed in the book are a far cry from the well known image of a glorified Gandhi, a man revered for leading campaigns against poverty, expanding women’s rights, building religious and ethnic peace and inspired civil rights movements across the world.
Petition against the statue in honour of Gandhi
In Malawi, the fight to stop the erection of the Gandhi statue in Blantyre City Council has led to a petition demanding the Blantyre City Council rescind its decision to erect Gandhi’s statue. The petition in part reads: “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.”
In 2016, lecturers of the University of Ghana started a petition to have the Gandhi statue removed from their campus. The removal of statues has been part of an ongoing process of claiming back identity, and deciding who to honour. Statues, beyond taking up space in a place, stand as a representation of support for the values of the individuals being honoured.
The lecturers of the University of Ghana in their petition said: “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.”
The proposal to erect a statue in Malawi has caused an outrage from many Malawians and Africans on social media who argue that honouring Gandhi is a slap in the face for Africans because of Gandhi’s openly “racist identity” and numerous racist statements attributed to him in his lifetime.
You can join in signing the petition here to stop the Blantyre City Council in Malawi from building Gandhi’s statue.