One cause or many?: M.K Gandhi and the motivations of the 1913 Natal Strikes

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Seminar Date
November 19, 2008
Not much is written of Gandhi’s time in South Africa after the passive resistance campaign of 1908. As a result historians of South Africa, with the exception of Maureen Swan , have left out what was probably the most important moment in Gandhi’s political career in South Africa - the 1913 Natal strikes. The strikes marked the first time a protest had taken place among indentured Indians on a mass scale. Moreover Gandhi, for the first time, was able to claim to have won all of his demands in a campaign. And, of course, the strikes were the moment when he, for the first time, was able to draw on a larger pool of constituents by attracting ex-indentured Indians. From the point of view of Gandhi’s participation in these events perhaps the most striking factor was that it was the first time that Gandhi called on the indentured and ex-indentured Indians to partake in any of his political campaigns. This was in stark contrast to his earlier forms of political campaigning which only extended to the merchant Indian classes. 1913 was also the year in which Gandhi first involved women in his activism and they came to play a crucial role in the campaign. These innovations on the part of Gandhi, and the nature of this, the last of his South African campaigns, will form the core analysis of the paper. Due to the lack of secondary material on this period in Gandhi’s life a detailed narrative of the events is required as a first step towards understanding the nature of the events that occurred in October 1913. This paper hopes to try and narrate some of those events closely as possible.
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