The mention of South Africa immediately brings alive imagery of Big 7 safaris, glamping, bungee jumping, shark cage diving, exquisite wines, diverse food and warm people. However, the Rainbow Nation has another aspect to it that is equally appealing – it’s rich and diverse cultural history! It is this nation that birthed Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest advocate of Indian freedom, as we know him today.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a young lawyer, arrived in Durban in 1893 and moved in with his family. After the infamous train incident at Pietermaritzburg Railway Station, where young Gandhi was off-boarded for sitting in a ‘whites only’ section, Gandhi stayed on in Inanda on the outskirts of Durban.
Gandhi may have left the Rainbow Nation in 1914, but his doctrine on Satyagraha found its way back through the thoughts and ideologies of Nelson Mandela, who echoed the passive resistance concept as he led his country on The Long Walk to Freedom.
From the humble Railway Station that found its way into history books, to reverent reflections in the Old Fort Prison cells at Constitution Hill, to the quaint Phoenix Settlement in Inanda – South Africa offers a chance to follow in the footsteps of this iconic Indian hero.
Pietermaritzburg Railway Station
June 7, 1893, went down in history due to Mahatma Gandhi’s refusal to budge from a ‘whites only’ coach on a train to Pretoria. Gandhi was thrown off the train at Pietermaritzburg Railway Station for this act of defiance that set the stage for Civil Disobedience. The historic building stills stands, with a plaque commemorating the incident that proved to be a turning point in Gandhi's fight against racial discrimination. Sushma Swaraj, External Affairs Minister for India, recently commemorated 125 years since the passage of this incident by embarking on a train journey from Pentrich to Pietermaritzburg.
Phoenix Settlement, Inanda
Situated 20km north of Durban, the Phoenix Settlement is a part of Kwa Zulu Natal’s Inanda Heritage Route. Gandhi resided here along with his family in a house named Sarvodaya, meaning ‘well-being for all.’ It was at Phoenix that Gandhi produced his weekly Indian Opinion newspaper from the International Printing Press – the building of which remains till date. The former home of Gandhi, burnt down in the political upheaval of the mid-1980s, has been reconstructed as a free-for-all museum that pays tribute to his achievements and to the principles of Satyagraha.
Old Fort Prison, Constitution Hill The Old Fort Prison Complex brings to forefront the value of freedom. Between 1908 and 1913, Gandhi was imprisoned in various places across the country and served sentences totalling to 7 months and 10 days for his ‘satyagraha’ campaigns. The prison showcases an exhibition titled ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ that focusses on Gandhi’s imprisonment and these ‘satyagraha’ campaigns. There is a replica of the pair of sandals Gandhi once gave to General Jan Smuts and several other fascinating exhibitions relating to Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment and the Women’s Gaol.
Battlefield at Spioenkop
Gandhi summoned a meeting, on October 18, 1899, to persuade Indians to sign up for The Natal Indian Ambulance Corps, formed by Mahatma Gandhi, in order to support the British as stretcher bearers during the Second Boer War. By January 1900, 500 Indians had signed up for the Corps, and Gandhi was among them, as they attended to the wounded at Spioenkop in Natal. This well-preserved battlefield site has a self-guided trail that explains how the battle unfolded among the trenches, graves and monuments and is well worth every historian’s time.
Hamida Mosque, Newtown The Hamida Mosque in Newtown is of great political and historical significance. Under Gandhi’s influence, members of the Hamida Muslim Society as well as thousands of Indians, Asians and Chinese publically burnt their passes (which were registration certificates used to control travel and residence) in defiance of the apartheid laws. A symbolic cauldron, called the Burning Truth (created by artist Usha Seejarim), commemorates this first recorded burning of passes that took place in South Africa.
This Gandhi Jayanti, the Rainbow Nation invites you to retrace the footsteps and sequence of events that influenced and moulded The Father of Our Nation!