A week-long celebration of Mahatma Gandhi

by Anisha Pemjee

Indian High Commissioner Jaideep Sarkar and Indian Consul General in Johannesburg Anju Ranjan flagging off the bus as the Gandhi Trail begins (Photo: twitter)

11 October 2021

‘India gave South Africa a lawyer, and South Africa gave India a Mahatma’.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in Porbandar, Gujarat in India on 2 October 1869. In 1888 he travelled to the United Kingdom where he studied law and as a young lawyer at the age of 24 he travelled to South Africa to take up a commercial case.

It is in South Africa that Gandhi experienced racism and he spent the next 21 years challenging racial discrimination in South Africa and it is here that he honed his political ideology, ethics and leadership skills which he used to challenge British colonialism in India.

Celebrating Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday and India’s 75 years of Independence, the High Commission of India in Pretoria and the Indian Consulates in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town organised a week-long string of activities.

Photo: Consul General Anju Ranjan at Constitution Hill garlanding the bust of Gandhi (Photo: twitter)

Gandhi’s birthday, 2 October was declared the International Day of Non-Violence in 2007 and activities on this day this year included the garlanding of Gandhi’s statue at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg. Gandhi, Mandela, (Nelson and Winnie), Slovo and Sisulu were amongst thousands over time incarcerated here.

Today Constitution Hill is a living museum that tells the story of South Africa’s journey to democracy. The site is a former prison and military fort that bears testament to South Africa’s turbulent past and, today, it is home to the country’s Constitutional Court, which endorses the rights of all citizens.

 

Tolstoy Farm was established by Gandhi in 1910 in the South-west of Johannesburg. It served as the headquarters of the campaign of Satyagraha against discrimination against Indians in the then Transvaal. Plans are underway to construct a museum and community centre on the site.

Pictured right are High Commissioner Jaideep Sarkar and Minako Sarkar at the brick-laying ceremony (Photo: twitter)

On Gandhi Jayanti, High Commissioner of India, Jaideep Sarkar participated in a brick-laying ceremony for the museum as well the garlanding of busts of Gandhi and Mandela.

 

 

 
The garlanding of busts of Gandhi and Mandela at Tolstoy Farm (Photo: twitter)

 

On 3 October, 75 people embarked on a 2-day trip following the Gandhian trail organised by the Indian Consulate General in Johannesburg.

The first stop on the trail was Pietermaritzburg which can be credited for the beginning of Gandhi’s Satyagraha.
 

Having studied in the British Empire, learnt their language, spoke like them, dressed like them, and despite carrying a valid first class train ticket, experienced a rude awakening when, as a brown-skinned man, he was thrown off a train on his way to Pretoria in May 1893. On 25 April 1997 the Pietermaritzburg-Msunduzi Council posthumously conferred Freedom of the City upon Mahatma Gandhi. Nelson Mandela, who had received the same award earlier that day, presented the citation to Gopalkrishna Gandhi, High Commissioner for India and grandson of Gandhi. On acceptance the High Commissioner said, “Gandhi fell with a railway ticket no one honoured; he rose with a testament none could ignore; he fell a passenger but rose a patriot; fell a barrister but rose a revolutionary; his legal brief became a political cause; his sense of human decency transformed itself into a passion for human justice.” It was here, HC Gandhi said, that “Mohandas Gandhi was not flung, he was launched.”
A plaque was erected at the place where Gandhi was thrown off the train at Pietermaritzburg station (Photos by Dilon Bhana)
 
Members of the delegation with CG Anju Ranjan at the bust of Gandhi at Pietermaritzburg station (Photo by Dilon Bhana)
 
 
Phoenix Settlement was the next stop on the Gandhi trail. In 1904 Gandhi purchased 100 acres of land and began his experiment with communal living, non-possession, interfaith harmony, simplicity, environmental protection, conservation, manual labour, social and economic justice, non-violent action, principles of education and truth. Gandhi started his first newspaper, in Durban in 1903 and in 1904 he moved the entire press to Phoenix Settlement. The early history of Phoenix Settlement records three important functions: Communal living and self-sufficiency based on food gardens; Working in the press to publish the newspaper, Indian Opinion; Offering accommodation, meals and education to the families of those who were participating in the Satyagraha campaigns.
 
Consul General Anju Ranjan handing over computer equipment to the Settlement's representatives. Pictured (far left) is Consul General of Durban Anish Rajan. Ela Gandhi and Consul General of Cape Town Ashok Babu (far right). (Photo by Dilon Bhana)
 
Tree planting at Phoenix settlement by 1. CG Anju Ranjan, 2. CG Anish Rajan and 3. CG Ashok Babu
 

The settlement comprises Gandhi’s house, the printing press building, Gandhi’s son Manilal’s house and the Phoenix Interpretation Centre, where lectures are given. There is also a centre where computer lessons are given and computers are made accessible to learners. Next to the Phoenix settlement is the Kasturba Primary School, named after Gandhi’s wife.

In Ladysmith, during the battle of Spioenkop, Gandhi formed a stretcher-carrying service called the Natal Indian Ambulance Corps to aid British troops during the Second Boer War. The Hindu community erected a statue of Gandhi outside the Vishnu temple there in 1993.
 
CG Anju Ranjan and her delegation in Ladysmith (Photo by Dilon Bhana)

 

In 1913 Gandhi held 2 protest meetings in the Dundee Temple grounds, as part of the campaign against the hated poll tax. Thousands of people attended these meetings. A bust of Gandhi was erected at Talana Museum in Dundee. Gandhi and Kasturba along with other Indian protestors were incarcerated for periods of time, some in Volksrust, which is the last stop of the trail.

The week-long activities included the screening of the ‘Making of the Mahatma’ by the Consulate General of India in Johannesburg. The movie details Gandhi’s 21 years in South Africa and is based on the book by Fatima Meer ‘The Apprenticeship of a Mahatma’.

A Sangeet Sandhya was also hosted by the Consulate where some of Gandhi’s favourite songs were rendered.

The activities around Gandhi were a revelation of a great man and took me back to my schooling days where I wrote an essay about the Mahatma every time an opportunity arose. He was great indeed, but foremost, he was a man and a product of his British education and in the words of his grandson Rajmohan Gandhi, he was “ignorant and prejudiced about South Africa’s blacks' but the 'imperfect Gandhi was more radical and progressive than most contemporary compatriots.”