Gandhi the Reformer
Gandhi spent the next twenty years working to better Indians rights in South Africa. During the first three years, Gandhi learned more about Indian grievances, studied the law, wrote letters to officials, and organized petitions. On May 22, 1894, Gandhi established the Natal Indian Congress (NIC). Although the NIC began as an organization for wealthy Indians, Gandhi worked diligently to expand its membership to all classes and castes. Gandhi became well-known for his activism and his acts were even covered by newspapers in England and India. In a few short years, Gandhi had become a leader of the Indian community in South Africa.
In 1896, after living three years in South Africa, Gandhi sailed to India with the intention of bringing his wife and two sons back with him. While in India, there was a bubonic plague outbreak. Since it was then believed that poor sanitation was the cause of the spread of the plague, Gandhi offered to help inspect latrines and offer suggestions for better sanitation. Although others were willing to inspect the latrines of the wealthy, Gandhi personally inspected the latrines of the untouchables as well as the rich. He found that it was the wealthy that had the worst sanitation problems.
On November 30, 1896, Gandhi and his family headed for South Africa. Gandhi did not realize that while he had been away from South Africa, his pamphlet of Indian grievances, known as the Green Pamphlet, had been exaggerated and distorted. When Gandhis ship reached the Durban harbor, it was detained for 23 days for quarantine. The real reason for the delay was that there was a large, angry mob of whites at the dock who believed that Gandhi was returning with two shiploads of Indian passengers to overrun South Africa. When allowed to disembark, Gandhi successfully sent his family off to safety, but he himself was assaulted with bricks, rotten eggs, and fists. Police arrived in time to save Gandhi from the mob and then escort him to safety. Once Gandhi had refuted the claims against him and refused to prosecute those who had assailed him, the violence against him stopped. However, the entire incident strengthened Gandhis prestige in South Africa.
When the Boer War in South Africa began in 1899, Gandhi organized the Indian Ambulance Corp in which 1,100 Indians heroically helped injured British soldiers. The goodwill created by this support of South African Indians to the British lasted just long enough for Gandhi to return to India for a year, beginning at the end of 1901. After traveling through India and successfully drawing public attention to some of the inequalities suffered by the lower classes of Indians, Gandhi returned to South Africa to continue his work there.