Race, Empire, and Citizenship: Sarojini Naidu's 1924 Visit to South Africa
This paper focuses on Sarojini Naidu's noteworthy 1924 visit to South Africa. She was the first high profile Indian to visit after the departure of Mohandas K. Gandhi in 1914. Her visit also highlighted that Indian political figures' visits to colonies often perpetuated a reliance on India for political redress. Naidu stood out because, even though she came as Gandhi's emissary, she went well beyond him in calling for a broad-based black alliance against white minority rule. She also emphasised that Indians in South Africa were national citizens and owed their allegiance to their adopted home. By emphasising the ‘South Africanness’ of Indians, she put paid to Gandhi's idea of imperial citizenship transcending the nation-state. Moreover, she was highly critical of Empire. The question is whether Naidu's visit should be understood within a particular historical trajectory or as the individual actions of an exceptional woman, feminist, and leader. This paper argues that she reflected changes in attitudes towards race in the colonies as well as feelings in India, including Gandhi's, of disillusionment with Empire. Rather than seeing Naidu's position as that of an outstanding individual, it should be contextualised within a specific historical conjuncture.