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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 March, 2005, 08:23 GMT
SA outcry at 'insult' to Gandhi
By Grant Clark
BBC News, Durban

A sex worker in Durban's Point Road
The two mile-long street is notorious for vice and crime
South African authorities are reconsidering their decision to rename a street in Durban's red-light district after peacemaker Mahatma Gandhi.

An outcry followed the announcement last week and local radio stations have been bombarded with complaints.

His descendants feel one of the main port city centre streets would be more fitting to bear his name.

Gandhi spent 20 years in Durban in the early 1900s, fighting against racism under British colonial rule.

Notorious

The naming of streets or places after a historical icon is usually greeted with applause by that icon's supporters.

Ela Gandhi, Gandhi's granddaughter
A much bigger and important road should be named after him
Ela Gandhi
But Point Road, the bone of contention - a two mile-long street running from the downtown beach precinct to the city's harbour mouth, is notorious for vice and crime.

Over the last few decades, the neighbourhood of apartment blocks has been over-run by growing sex and illicit drug enterprises.

Drug dealers brazenly ply their trade on the street alongside sex workers employed by escort agencies and massage parlours.

Many of Durban's more than one million residents of Indian origin have reacted angrily to the move they feel is an insult to Gandhi, who fought and for the rights of Indian indentured labourers in South Africa.

'Change for the better'

Ela Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi's granddaughter - an African National Congress MP and head of the Gandhi Satyagraha Foundation - is against the renaming, though for a different reason.

I suppose it's part of change and change is good
Point Road sex worker

"My concern is that Point Road is a small road and for a person with the stature of Gandhi who has international significance, a much bigger and important road should be named after him," she said.

"As far as Point Road's reputation is concerned, no-one in my family has raised that with me, although I can imagine why people who have a certain affection for Gandhi and what he stood for, would feel upset about it."

Mrs Gandhi said she was disappointed that her family wasn't consulted on the re-naming.

Residents of the controversial street offered a mixed response to the proposed name change.

"I suppose it's part of change and change is good but it really doesn't make any real difference to me," said one sex worker.

"This place has a bad reputation. Perhaps giving it Gandhi's name will make it change for the better," mused another local.

'Richest of the rich'

The planned street name change is part of a nationwide effort by the South African government to honour people who contributed the fight for freedom and human rights.

Mahatma Gandhi: Revered as father of India
Mahatma Gandhi, regarded as the father of India, spent 20 years in Durban

The city council decided on Gandhi for the notorious street after proposals from the public.

The seedy Point Road area is currently undergoing a multi-million dollar upgrade which, it is hoped will ultimately replace its seedy reputation with an upmarket one.

Social commentator and academic Ashwin Desai believes it is because of this development that the street should not be named after Gandhi.

"Point Road is becoming the centre's development for the richest of the rich.

"It's got these huge skyscrapers at the end of it with a minimum price is 1.5m rand ($250,000); old houses are being broken down and for Gandhi to be named after it can only be an insult," Mr Desai said.


SEE ALSO:
Restoring Gandhi's African legacy
03 Sep 04 |  South Asia
Country profile: South Africa
26 Feb 05 |  Country profiles


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