Interview with Gandhiji by The Rev. S. S. Tema, Jan 1 1939, Segaon, India

TEMA: How can my people make their Congress as successful as the Indian National Congress?

GANDHIJI: The Congress became successful for the simple reason that it was inaugurated by the most selfless and cultured people that could be found in that age. They made themselves the representatives of the people and captured their imagination by reason of service and self-sacrifice. They were from the people and of the people. You have not, as far as I am aware, a band of Africans who would be content to work and live in impecuniosity. Among those who are educated there is not that absolute selflessness. Again, while most of your leaders are Christians, the vast mass of the Bantus and Zulus are not Christians. You have adopted European dress and manners, and have as a result become strangers in the midst of your own people. Politically, that is a disadvantage. It makes it difficult for you to reach the heart of the masses. You must not be afraid of being "Bantuised" or feel ashamed of carrying an assegai or of going about with only a tiny clout round your loins. A Zulu or a Bantu is a well-built man and need not be ashamed of showing his body. He need not dress like you. You must become Africans once more.

T:Of late there has been some talk of forming an Indo-African united non-white front in South Africa. What do you think about it?

G :It will be a mistake. You will be pooling together not strength but weakness. You will best help one another by each standing on his own legs. The two cases are different. The Indians are a microscopic minority. They can never be a menace to the white population. You, on the other hand, are the sons of the soil who are being robbed of your inheritance. You are bound to resist that. Yours is a tar bigger issue. It ought not to be mixed up with that of the Indian. This does not preclude the establishment of the friendliest relations between the two races. The Indians can cooperate with you in a number of ways. They can help you by always acting on the square towards you. They may not put themselves in opposition to your legitimate aspirations, or run you down as "savages" while exalting themselves as cultured people in order to secure concessions for themselves at your expense.

T : What sort of relations would you favour between these two races?;

G: The closest possible. But while I have abolished all distinction between an African and an Indian, that does not mean that I do not recognise the difference between them. The different races of mankind are like different branches of a tree once we recognise the common parent stock from which we arc sprung, we realise the basic unity of the human family, and there is no room left for enmities and unhealthy competition

T: Should we adopt violence or non-violence as a means for our deliverance?

G: Certainly, non-violence under all circumstances. But you must have a living faith in it. Even when there is impenetrable darkness surrounding you, you must not abandon hope. A person who believes in non-violence believes in a living God. He cannot accept defeat. Therefore, my advice is non-violence all the lime, but non-violence of the brave, not of the coward.

T: Your example has shed so much influence upon us that we are thinking whether it would not be possible for one or two of our young men, who we are hoping will become leaders, to come to you for training.

G:It is quite a good and sound idea.

T: Do you think Christianity can bring salvation to Africa?

G:Christianity, as it is known and practised today, cannot bring salvation to your people. It is my conviction that those who today call themselves Christians do not know the true message of Jesus. I witnessed some of the horrors that were perpetrated on the Zulus during the Zulu Rebellion. Because one man, Bambatta, their chief, had refused to pay his tax, the whole race was made to suffer2 I was in charge of an ambulance corps. I shall never forget the lacerated backs of Zulus who had received stripes and were brought to us for nursing because no while nurse was prepared to look after them. And yet those who perpetrated all those cruelties called themselves Christians. They were educated, better dressed than the Zulus, but not their moral superiors.

T; Whenever a leader comes up in our midst, he flops down after a while, lie either becomes ambitious after money or succumbs to the drink habit or some other vice and is lost to us. How shall we remedy this?

G:The problem is not peculiar to you. Your leadership has proved ineffectual because it was not sprung from the common people. If you belong to the common people, live like them and think like them, they will make common cause with you. If I were in your place, I would not ask a single African to alter his costume and make himself peculiar. It does not add a single inch to his moral stature.


Harijan,February 18, 1939, Collected Works, Volume 68, pages


1. The Reverend S.S. Tema of the Dutch Reformed Mission, Johannesburg, was a member of the African National Congress. He was one of the delegates to the fourth meeting of the International Missionary Council - held in Tambaram near Madras, in December 1938 - who had conic to sec Gandhiji after the Conference was over.

The delegates were in Segaon on December 31 and January 1. Reverend Tema presumably met Gandhiji on January 1, 1939.

2. In 1906, Bambata (Bambata), a Zulu chief, refused to pay a new poll lax imposed on the Zulus. The tax was onerous £ 1 on each adult when the average annual wage of an African was £ 5. A tax collector was killed and a widespread rebellion followed.

The Natal Government sent troops into the area and suppressed the rebellion after 4,000 Africans and 30 whiles were killed. Another 4,000 Africans were arrested and sentenced to brutal lashings.


Collected Works

• Harijan,February 18, 1939, Collected Works, Volume 68, pages 272-74

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