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Mass meetings outside the Hamidia Mosque in Johannesburg helped
kickstart the passive resistance Campaign. © Museum Africa. Johannesburg.

"Passive resistance" in South Africa 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. In later years there were further passive resistance campaigns by the Indian community.

From studying the history of the South African struggle against apartheid and repression, one can argue that the consistent and prolonged use of nonviolent action played a crucial role in the downfall of the apartheid system.

Gandhi's message of equality for women and the untouchables also put him at the forefront of movements towards social justice in both Indian and South African society.

2008 marked the 100th anniversary of M.K. Gandhi’s Pass Law Protest

On 16 August 1908, 3 000 Muslims, Hindus and Christians led by Mohandas 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, which he  directed that men live as Christ 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, most notably Martin Luther King.

This feature was put together to celebrate the centenary of the campaign. The feature looks at the various important 'passive resistance' or 'non-violent' campaigns in 20th Century South Africa namely;

Ongoing project in celebration of centenary anniversary of the 1906 Passive resistance movement