The years 1898-1903 which Gandhiji spent in South Africa, except for a year (1909-1902) when he was in India, were a period of intense activity in the cause of Indians in South Africa. They were significant both in his personal and public life. He felt a growing urge at this time to simplify the manner of his life and to do come concrete act of service to his fellow-men. He served in the Durban Indian Hospital as a lay assistant, giving an hour or two daily to this work which brought him into close touch with indentured Indians. He also developed a special
interest in the nursing and care of children.
The Year 1898 saw Gandhiji devoting greater efforts to building up the embership and the funds of the Natal Indian Congress. When the Boer War broke out in 1899, he organized an Indian Ambulance Corps and placed its services at the disposal of the Natal Government. He was then proud of his British citizenship and anxious to disprove the charge, frequently levelled against the Indians in South Africa, that they were mere self-seekers and money-grabbers. The services which he and the rest of the Corps rendered during the six weeks at the front, often in the line of fire, won warm praise from all quarters. Later, in a speech in Calcutta, Gandhiji recalls the rich experience gained by him at the front. Comparing its perfect order and holy stillness to those of a Trappist monastery, he says: "Tommy was then altogether lovable. . . .Like Arjun, they went to the battlefield, because it was their duty. And how many proud, rude, savage spirits has it not broken into gentle creatures of God?"
In October 1901, Gandhiji considered that his work in South Africa had come to an end and decided to leave for India. His country-men there expressed their admiration and affection for him by presenting him with addresses and costly gifts. These latter, however, Gandhiji deposited in a bank, constituting a trust for the utilization of the funds for public work in South Africa. It was with difficulty, and only after giving a promise to return if his services were required, that Gandhiji was able to leave for India.
Back home, Gandhiji attended the Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress and moved the resolution on South Africa. He addressed public meetings about the condition of Indians in that country and met many prominent Indian leaders. He became specially attached to Gokhale, with whom he stayed for a month in Calcutta.
Returning to Rajkot, he tried to set up legal practice, but met with initial difficulties. His concern over South African developments expressed itself in frequent communications to the Press in India. He maintained a close and continuous touch with his co-workers in South Africa,