Passive resistance

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In South Africa passive resistance has been closely associated with the late Mohandas (Mahatma) Karamchand Gandhi (1869 -1948) and his philosophy. As early as 1906, he led the Indian community in South Africa in acts of passive resistance. On 16 August 1908, 3 000 Muslims, Hindus and Christians led by Gandhi, a Hindu, gathered outside the Hamidia Mosque in Newtown, near Johannesburg. The protest climaxed with a symbolic burning of their passes, those documents all people classified "non-white" by the government were forced to carry or face imprisonment. The huge bonfire, lit in a three legged cauldron or potjie, marked the first burning of passes in South Africa and the beginning of Gandhi’s satyagraha, the passive resistance, campaign. Soon after, Gandhi had a group of his followers cross the boarder from Natal to the Transvaal. As a result he was imprisoned for six months. Gandhi passed his time in jail by reading. The works that influenced him most were Henry David Thoreau's Essay on Civil Disobedience, which Thoreau had written after being jailed for refusing to pay taxes to a government he would not support, and The Kingdom of God Is Within You by Leo Tolstoy, in which he suggested that men live as Christ had directed. Gandhi and Tolstoy corresponded until Tolstoy’s death 1910. In his last letter Tolstoy wrote to him, "That which is called passive resistance is nothing else than the teaching of love..." The events of 16 August, 1908 are regarded as a milestone in the evolution of passive resistance as a form of protest against racial discrimination. Gandhi’s protest and the satyagraha campaign which grew out of it would influence Struggle leaders worldwide throughout the 20th century, including the ANC and other resistance groups in South Africa and most notably Martin Luther King in the USA.

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