Mahatma Gandhi statue
[Representational Image] The Hindu Mahasabha Reuters

Students and teachers at the University of Ghana are petitioning for the removal of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi citing his alleged racist attitude towards the black people during his time in South Africa.

A petition, which has gained more than 1,300 supporters since it was floated two weeks ago, references letters written by Gandhi during his time in South Africa and flags out the use of pejorative term kaffir, also considered a racial slur, as its reason for demanding the removal of the statue.

"A general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir," the petition reads, as it quotes an excerpt from Gandhi's open letter to the Natal parliament in 1893 as evidence of his racist beliefs.

Gifted to the university by the Indian embassy in June, petitioners say that the academic staff were not consulted before the figure was erected on the campus.

 "It is better to stand up for our dignity than to kowtow to the wishes of a burgeoning Eurasian super-power," wrote the petitioners.

Speaking to al-Jazeera, granddaughter of the Mahatma and former MP for the African National Congress in South Africa, Ela Gandhi said by "all means remove it."

"We ask why should we be critical of others to establish our own stature. There can be no justification for that," she continued, while urging students not to discard the "notion of nonviolence, of compassion … [and] Ubuntu" that her grandfather stood for.

Taking a cue from universities such as Yale and Oxford, which also removed "racist symbols," the protesters also cited the lack of statues of African heroes on campus as a further reason to remove the statue of Gandhi.

Despite historical evidence of Gandhi fighting against discrimination against Africans, some have accused him of being a racist. Critics such as Arundhati Roy in 2014 accused Gandhi of accepting the caste system, what she called "the most brutal social hierarchy ever known."

Similar incidents also occurred last year when a protester in Johannesburg vandalised a Gandhi statue after similar demonstrations. In August, a protest in the United States halted the installation of a Gandhi statue in the city's central park.