Mohandas Gandhi

The father of passive resistance

October 2 1869 — January 30 1948
Artist: Usha Seejarim
Location: Hamidia Mosque, Jennings Street, Fordsburg, Johannesburg
Usha Seejarim’s memorial honouring Gandhi features a potjie, like the cauldron in which passes were burned in the 1908 protest. When the wheel beneath the cauldron is spun, a zoetrope enables viewers to see an image of a pass actually burning.
Picture: Debbie Yazbek © Sunday Times

On August 16, 1908, 3 000 Muslims, Hindus and Christians led by Mohandas Gandhi, a Hindu, gathered outside the Hamidia Mosque and burned their passes, documents all people classified "non-white" by the government were forced to carry or face imprisonment. The huge bonfire, lit in a cauldron, marked the first burning of passes in South Africa and the beginning of Gandhi's satyagraha, or passive resistance, campaign.

From The Archives
What brought Gandhi to South Africa?
In extracts from his autobiography, Mohandas Gandhi speaks candidly about how debilitating shyness sabotaged his early career as a lawyer in India, leading to his decision to take up a job in South Africa.
The Transvaal Asiatic Registration Act
In response to the Transvaal Asiatic Registration Act, and to prevent the Asiatic community of South Africa suffering intolerable humiliation, Gandhi developed the concept of satyagraha.
Indian registration cards and the prelude to the pass-burning
Key to the story of the pass-burning is the relationship between Gandhi and Jan Smuts.
Accounts of the pass burning
In this extract from his book, Satyagraha in South Africa, Gandhi provides his own account of the pass-burning of August 16, 1908.
Development of satyagraha at tolstoy farm
In 1910, Gandhi’s close associate, Herman Kallenbach, bought property north of Johannesburg which he donated to the satyaghara movement.
Gandhi's relationship with Jan Smuts and the story of the sandals
Gandhi’s relationship with Jan Smuts was a fraught one, but both men maintained a degree of respect for each other.
Gandhi's letter to Hitler
On July 23, 1939, a few weeks before the outbreak of World War II, Gandhi wrote to Adolf Hitler, addressing him as "Dear Friend" and appealing to the Führer to prevent "a war which may reduce humanity to the savage state". His letter went unanswered.
Life Stories
Following the footsteps of a great man
A pair of sandals made by Gandhi for Jan Smuts symbolises the respect the two leaders had for each other.
The power of peaceful defiance
Gandhi’s belief in passive resistance developed during his two-decades-long stay in South Africa.
9/11 and satyagraha
The fifth anniversary of 9/11 was also the centenary of the birth of satyagraha, Gandhi’s mode of peaceful struggle.
Making the Memorial
Who is Usha Seejarim?
Her work is flavoured by her urban surroundings and her heritage as a person of Indian origin growing up in South Africa.
The Light Bulb Moment: The Artist's Concept
Seejarim says Gandhi's philosophy of passive resistance should not be confused with passivity for he was an activist and an initiator, hence the "interactive" artwork.
"Truly speaking, it was after I went to South Africa that I became what I am now"
Mohandas Gandhi
Mohandas Gandhi, 1908
Picture: © Sunday Times


In this lesson plan, learners will be asked to extract information from a document, photographs and an extract from Gandhi's speech at the burning of registration certificates in 1908. They will be able to explore the motives of the Transvaal government in issuing passes to male Indians over the age of eight, and the bitter feelings it stirred up among the Indian community. Learners will be introduced to Gandhi's political philosophy - satyagraha - which can be translated as "the force which is born of truth and love, or non-violence".

Lesson plan
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Archive Photo Gallery
Gandhi’s transformation from dapper young lawyer to sage in sandals.
Artwork photo gallery
Take a 360° tour of the memorial outside the Hamidia Mosque on Jennings Street, Fordsburg, Johannesburg.
Audio Slideshow