A statue of Mahatma Gandhi on a university campus in Ghana has been pulled down by lecturers arguing that India’s most renowned independence leader was racist.
After campaigning for the statue’s removal for two years, teachers at the University of Ghana in the country’s capital Accra took matters into their own hands on Wednesday.
The statue was unveiled in June 2016 by India’s former President Pranab Mukherjee, who also gave a speech encouraging students to ’emulate and concretise’ Gandhi’s ideals.
However shortly afterward lecturers started a petition to get rid of the statue, which had been located in the university’s recreational quadrangle.
According to the BBC, the petition said that Gandi was ‘racist’ and called for African heroes to be honoured instead.
The professors said that the fact that the only historical figure memorialised on the university campus was not African was ‘a slap in the face that undermines our struggles for autonomy, recognition and respect’, The Guardian reported.
They also reportedly cited several of Gandhi’s writings which refer to black South Africans as ‘kaffirs’ (a highly offensive racist slur), accuse the South African government of trying to ‘drag down’ Indians to the level of ‘half-heathen natives’ and describe Indians as ‘infinitely superior’ to black people.
Gandhi (1869 – 30 January 1948) is the most famous leader of India, where he is referred to as Bapu (papa). He led the country to independence from British rule, which it achieved in August 1947.
He is remembered for his tactics of peaceful civil disobedience, which have inspired civil rights movements throughout the world.
From age 23, Gandhi spent two decades living and working as a human rights lawyer in South Africa, where he developed his political and ethical views.
While there he also faced persecution because of his race and served four prison terms totalling seven months for resisting racially-biased laws.
Nana Adoma Asare Adei, a law student at the University of Ghana, told the BBC: ‘Having his statue means that we stand for everything he stands for and if he stands for these things [his alleged racism], I don’t think we should have his statue on campus.’
The University of Ghana lecturers are not the only group to have raised objections to honouring Gandhi on the grounds that he was ‘racist’.
In October this year, construction work was stopped on a statue of the Indian leader being built in Malawi after more than 3,000 people signed a petition arguing against the statue citing the fact Gandhi had referred to black people as ‘savages’.
A judge granted an injunction saying that construction should be halted until a hearing could be carried out, or another court order was given.
In their court application, activist group ‘Gandhi Must Fall’ said his remarks on black people ‘have invited a sense of loathing and detestation.’
The statue was being built in the city of Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial capital, as part of a $10million construction project in conjunction with the city of Delhi.
The site was due to host a concert hall which would also be named after the Indian independence fighter, and was due to be inaugurated by India’s Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu.
Malawai’s foreign ministry official Isaac Munlo previously defended the statue, saying ‘Gandhi promoted values of simplicity, fight against social evils’.
‘Gandhi is a role model of a human rights campaigner for both Africa and India,’ he said.
Malawi and India established diplomatic ties in 1964 and New Delhi is one of the country’s leading aid donors.
Gandhi’s grandson Rajmohan Gandhi has said he was ‘undoubtedly…ignorant and prejudiced about South Africa’s blacks’ but says he was ultimately ‘more radical and progressive than most contemporary compatriots’.
Rajmohan Gandhi quoted his grandfather’s 1908 Johannesburg speech, in which he said: ‘If we look into the future, is it not a heritage we have to leave to posterity, that all the different races commingle and produce a civilisation that perhaps the world has not yet seen?’
Statues have sparked charged debates in Africa in recent years as the continent wrestles with the on-going legacy of colonialism and history of racism.
Students in South Africa successfully campaigned in 2015 for the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes, a notoriously racist mining magnate who died in 1902, from the University of Cape Town campus.