ACCRA, Ghana: A statue of Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi will be removed from a university in the capital of Ghana, citing a controversy over what critics call his “racist identity.”
But the government made clear the move would be for the statue’s safety, telling the critics that “we must remember that people evolve.”
Professors at the University of Ghana launched a petition last month calling for the removal of the statue, which was unveiled by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee the president of India, as a symbol of close ties between the two countries in June.
Ghana’s foreign affairs ministry said the government “would … want to relocate the statue from the University of Ghana to ensure its safety.”
More than 1,000 people signed the petition, which claimed that not only was Gandhi racist towards black South Africans when he lived in South Africa as a young man, but that he campaigned for the maintenance of India’s caste system, an ancient social hierarchy that still defines the status in that country of hundreds of millions of people.
Gandhi, a lawyer, traveled to South Africa in 1893 and stayed for two decades, fighting to expand rights for Indians there. The petition quotes writings from that period in which he refers to black South Africans as savages.
At the same time, Gandhi’s approach of nonviolent protest influenced the African National Congress and its resistance to white minority rule.
“While acknowledging that human as he was, Mahatma Gandhi may have had his flaws, we must remember that people evolve,” Ghana’s statement said. “He inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.”
The statement also expressed concern that the professors’ campaign could harm Ghana’s ties to India.
The professors say the university instead should feature statues of local heroes like Yaa Asantewaa, who led a rebellion against British colonialism, or Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president.
Statues on university campuses have recently prompted bitter arguments in Africa as students wrestle with the legacy of colonialism and history of racism on the continent. Last year students in South Africa successfully campaigned for the removal, from the University of Cape Town campus, of a statue of Cecil Rhodes, a notoriously racist mining magnate who died in 1902.