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Tuesday, July 27, 1999 Published at 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK

World: Africa

'Sorry Gandhi' - 105 years later

Gandhi was barred from legal practice because he was Indian

A South African law society has apologised posthumously to Mahatma Gandhi - 105 years after a racist decision barred the young lawyer from practising.

In 1894 Gandhi became the first lawyer who was not white to apply to practise in the then British colony of Natal.

The Natal Law Society opposed his application because he was Indian.

Current president of the Natal Law Society David Randles made an apology in the Johannesburg newspaper The Star.

"The society apologises unconditionally, albeit posthumously, to the late Mahatma Gandhi for having attempted to restrict his rights to practise as an advocate in Natal," Mr Randles said.

He said the apology was extended to "all other aspirant lawyers whose access to the profession was restricted in any way on the basis of racial grounds".

Civil rights quest

Gandhi was already a qualified lawyer when he went to South Africa.

Before returning to India in 1914, Gandhi had some success in negotiating civil rights for Indians in Natal.

The former colony, now known as KwaZulu-Natal, is home to South Africa's largest concentration of people of Indian origin - many of them the descendents of indentured employees who immigrated to work on sugar plantations from the 1860s.

It was in Natal that Gandhi developed the philosophy of passive resistance, which he used to spearhead the campaign which led to India's independence from Britain in 1947.

Gandhi was murdered by a Hindu extremist in 1948.

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