Independence Day, Satyagraha and No. 14 Mercury Lane

Monday the 15th August 2016 marked 69 years since India claimed its independence from British rule. The movement that resulted in Indian independence is most famous for satyagraha, a campaign of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience led by the Indian National Congress, of which Mohandas Gandhi was the president at the time. It was nearly a century before India took back control of its land and its people after the Government of India Act resulted in the British Crown assuming direct control of the country in 1858. Many roads led to that final destination, but it’s interesting to note that the concept of satyagraha that was so instrumental in the fight for independence, has its origins in South Africa, and in particular with the newspaper Indian Opinion. The term was coined as a result of a competition held by the newspaper in 1906, a few years after the Indian Opinion released its first issue in June 1903.

The newspaper began its life by adopting a very moderate tone – the editor proclaimed “we have unfailing faith in British justice” – but by 1906 it had become a vehicle for challenging state laws and urging defiance when laws were clearly unjust. The newspaper, which was translated from English into Hindi, Gujerati and Tamil, became directly linked to Gandhi’s goal of transformation, and his regular column, Johannesburg Letter, explained to Indians what steps they should take to oppose the building anti-Indian sentiment in the country, and what the reaction of the authorities would be. Over time political activism on the part of the editors of Indian Opinion became an established tradition, with all but one of its editors spending some time in jail.

Gandhi eventually left South Africa in 1914, but the newspaper continued its work until the 4th August 1961, when it published its last issue.

Number 14 Mercury Lane in Durban, the first offices used by the Indian Opinion, now form part of the Durban Liberation Heritage Route.

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