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Case #404

Challenging Repressive Laws in South Africa


In the early 20th century, both India and South Africa were part of the British Empire, and thousands of Indians were brought to South Africa as indentured workers. In 1906, the South African government passed a series of laws pertaining to the status of Indians that required registration because of race, took away recognition of Indian marriages, promoted segregation and made business and trade by Indians difficult.

Mohandas K. Gandhi moved to South Africa from India in 1893. A young lawyer, he built a thriving legal practice in South Africa and also began to experiment with simplifying his life, seeking truth and practicing nonviolence. Gandhi joined thousands of Indians who resented inequality and rejected the new laws. He had studied the writings of Tolstoy, Thoreau and others and was ready to lead a new effort to bring change. He called for a coordinated. nonviolent campaign to overturn the laws that began with widespread refusal to register in 1907 and included burning certificates of registration. This campaign led to Gandhi's first arrest and offered many opportunities to experiment with different tactics.

After eight years, the laws were rescinded - marking Gandhi's first major victory, obtained with almost no mortalities.


This victory was a step in the development of the modern political tactic of mass nonviolent action. Gandhi was the foremost early theorist and practitioner, but he and others invented it as they went along, accepting suffering as part of what Gandhi called "experiments with truth."

Years: 1907-15
Location: India
Action: Political, Direct
Setting: Third World
Extent of Action: National
Issues: Human Rights
Year(s): 1907
Outcome successful
Source: War Resistors League 2002 Peace Calendar, Jan.


Prepared By: alb 12/01
Rating: 1
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