The Durban Post Office
The Durban Post Office
Note: The Natal Indian Congress was founded in 1894 by Mohandas Gandhi to further the causes of caste Hindus and campaign against equal treatment for Indians and black South African natives. This blatant display of racism is apparent at the Durban post office in South Africa.
The first major accomplishment of the Natal Indian Congress was to further entrench racial segregation into South African society during a time of massive racial strife. At the time, the Durban, South Africa post office had two doors. One was for whites and the other for Indians and black natives. Gandhi was so disgusted at having to share a door with blacks that he initiated a campaign for the creation of a third door. This achievement is shocking but very well-documented in Gandhi’s writings.
Gandhi Refuses to Share Door With Blacks
Gandhi first referenced this issue in an August, 1895 letter titled “Report of the Natal Indian Congress.” He wrote: “A correspondence was carried on by the late President with the Government in connection with the separate entrances for the Europeans and Natives and Asiatics at the Post Office.”
A year later, after the issue had already been resolved, Gandhi chose to expound upon his reasons for raising it in the first place. In his August 14, 1896 letter, “The Grievances of the British Indians in South Africa: An Appeal to the Indian Public,” he called being “put on the same level with the native” a “disability.” He did not complain that Indians were refused the same rights as whites, but rather that Indians were not treated as legally superior to the black natives. Gandhi’s “Grievances” letter continues:
“Lavatories are marked ‘natives and Asiatics’ at the railway stations. In the Durban Post and Telegraph Offices, there were separate entrances for natives and Asiatics and Europeans. We felt the indignity too much and many respectable Indians were insulted and called all sorts of names by the clerks at the counter.”
Obviously, Gandhi was infuriated by the idea of integration with the black natives. He didn’t mind that Indians were segregated from whites as long as the Indian was not “dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.”
Gandhi Achieves Post Office Segregation
In his 1895 “Report,” Gandhi boasted about the government response to his petition for segregation from the blacks. He wrote: “The result has not been altogether unsatisfactory. Separate entrances will now be provided for the three communities.” Again, in his 1896 “Grievances,” he bragged about this victory, writing: “We petitioned the authorities to do away with the invidious distinction and they have now provided three separate entrances for natives, Asiatics and Europeans.”
Gandhi Seeks Further Segregation
He was not satisfied, however, and in 1896 raised the “problem” of other integrated locations. The integrated railway station lavatories displeased him, for instance, and in “Grievances” he wrote that “our efforts are concentrated towards preventing and getting repealed fresh legislation.” His efforts to increase racial segregation continued for many years. In an 1894 Indian Opinion article, for instance, he again protested integration with the blacks, writing: “Why, of all places in Johannesburg, the Indian location should be chosen for dumping down all Kaffirs of the town, passes my comprehension. Of course, under my suggestion, the Town Council must withdraw the Kaffirs from the Location. About this mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians I must confess I feel most strongly. I think it is very unfair to the Indian population, and it is an undue tax on even the proverbial patience of my countrymen.”
Indeed, Gandhi felt Indian segregation was something worth boasting about. In a March, 1903 Indian Opinion article, he wrote: “The petition dwells upon `the co-mingling of the colored and white races.’ May we inform the members of the Conference that so far as British Indians are concerned, such a thing is particularly unknown. If there is one thing which the Indian cherishes more than any other, it is the purity of type.”
Gandhi’s staunch devotion to Hinduism clarifies his love of racial segregation. The foundation of Hinduism is a racist caste philosophy which forces darker skinned people in general and the black Untouchables of India specifically to the bottom rung of society. Much of Gandhi’s time in South Africa was dedicated to ensuring the denial of equal civil rights to the black natives, whom he viewed as equivalent to Untouchables.
His activities in South Africa beg an important question. Did his campaign for a racially segregated society contribute to the rise of Apartheid?