Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the British Council's online course, Exploring English: Magna Carta. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds In this activity, we’re going to consider how Magna Carta inspired two well known 20th century freedom fighters in the campaigns for justice. We’ll be looking at the work of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

Skip to 0 minutes and 23 seconds In the 19th and an early 20th centuries, large numbers of Indians moved to live and work in South Africa. White South African colonists were aware that the Indian community was growing larger, and so they tried to restrict the freedom of the Indian people. Mahatma Gandhi moved to South Africa to work as a lawyer when he was 24 years old. Here, he faced discrimination because of this colour. He was thrown off a train because he refused to move from the first class area. He was also frequently barred from hotels as he travelled around the country.

Skip to 1 minute and 9 seconds From 1906, Gandhi led a campaign against discriminatory laws. He asked Indians in South Africa to adopt a strategy of nonviolent resistance, and persuaded them to defy the South African laws which denied them their human rights. This strategy finally resulted in the 1914 Indian Relief Act. Gandhi said that this 1914 Indian Relief Act was the Magna Carta of our liberty in this land. He believed there should be no legal racial inequality between different subjects of the Crown.

Skip to 1 minute and 51 seconds Almost 50 years later, in 1962, Nelson Mandela was tried for his attempts to overthrow the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Apartheid was a system of racial segregation that meant non-white people did not have the same rights and freedoms as white people. Mandela was charged with attempting to overthrow the state, and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Skip to 2 minutes and 21 seconds In his famous speech from the dock, he attacked the racist regime which he had been fighting. He contrasted at the democratic nature of Britain’s parliament with South Africa. Mandela also spoke about Magna Carta, saying that it was a document which was looked up to by democrats throughout the world.

Skip to 2 minutes and 47 seconds Mandela’s speech showed that he was committed to principles of fairness and democracy. He was eventually released from prison in 1990. and in 1994, he became president of South Africa.

Freedom fighters and Magna Carta

Listen to Genevieve talking about Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

Both Gandhi and Mandela fought for equality and an end to racial discrimination.

Mandela and Gandhi spoke of how they had been inspired by the principles of Magna Carta.

  • Can you think of any other well-known 20th century freedom fighters?

  • What were they inspired by?

Share your ideas in the comments below.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Exploring English: Magna Carta

British Council