Taking leader off pedestal
ANOTHER marker has been felled in the intense argument over whether historic figures with racist histories should be honoured. The University of Ghana in Accra no longer has a statue of India independence leader Mohandas K Gandhi.
To much of the world, Gandhi is remembered for his peaceful protests in his efforts for Indian sovereignty, but in Africa, where he worked as a lawyer for two decades, he is seen through a different lens.
In 2016, the Ghana statue was dedicated by then-Indian President Pranab Mukherjee as a symbol of strengthening ties between the two nations.
But professors, students and Ghanaians railed against the statue, calling it a homage to a racist who thought of Africans as naked savages who were beneath Britons and Indians, using Gandhi’s early writings from his two decades in Africa to bolster their arguments.
Gandhi’s Indian empowerment argument, critics said in a petition to remove the statue, appeared to be that the British colonial government treated Indians a “little better, if at all, than the savages or the Natives of Africa”.
He spoke of the “half-heathen Native” and said treating Indians like Africans would “degrade us”.
The sole occupation of “raw” natives is hunting, he said and their “sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness”.
He also made liberal use of the k-word, a racial slur so offensive that it’s rarely spoken aloud in polite company or written in print. Uttering it in South Africa, where Gandhi lived and worked from 1893 to 1915, can be viewed as a hate crime.
The Ghana University petition cited other protests against – and removal of – tributes to historic but controversial figures at universities across the globe, including the former slave-owning Royal family at Harvard University and apartheid founder Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town.
The protests against Gandhi are not limited to Africa. In Davis, California, a similar statue has been protested against, and plans to honour Gandhi with a statue in London have also met opposition.
His later writings don’t include the inflammatory speech of his time in Africa, although scholars said Gandhi indulged in some “tidying up” his own history. And his leadership and peaceful protests led to India’s independence.
But the Gandhi statue has raised an uncomfortable question: At what point does a person’s transgression’s overshadow the good he has ushered into the world?
In 2016, members of the University of Ghana council started the petition that a statue to Gandhi had no place on campus. To date, more than 2 200 people had signed it.
“We consider this to be a slap in the face that undermines our struggles for autonomy, recognition and respect,” the petition states. – Washington Post
A statue of Mohandas Gandhi in Accra, Ghana. Professors at a university in Ghana’s capital are campaigning for the removal of a new statue of the Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi.