[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 3 September, 2004, 09:26 GMT 10:26 UK
Restoring Gandhi's African legacy
By Ethirajan Anbarasan
BBC Tamil service

Phoenix settlement
Gandhi's Phoenix house: Historians want to cement its importance
Followers of Mahatma Gandhi have been celebrating the centenary of the founding of his Phoenix settlement in South Africa - and they are hoping to make people more aware of his contribution to the country's Indian community.

The Phoenix, in Durban, was where Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, later Mahatma, developed his concept of passive resistance, or Satyagraha, to fight racial injustice.

A series of conferences, cultural events, peace seminars and competitions are being organised to commemorate the life and contribution of Gandhi, who spent 21 years in South Africa fighting racist laws.

However, despite the enthusiasm of his followers, Gandhi is today largely a forgotten figure in South Africa, even among the 1.2 million-strong Indian community, most of whom are descendents of indentured labourers brought by the British in the 19th century.

"You will not find books on Gandhi in South African bookstores and libraries," says Gandhi's granddaughter, Ela Gandhi, who grew up in the Phoenix settlement.

"Even universities do not teach about Gandhian philosophy."

Tourism sites

Ela says the apartheid system was one of the main reasons that stopped South Africans learning about their history.

Ela Gandhi
Ela Gandhi says apartheid obscured Gandhi's legacy

Organisers of the anniversary events are taking them to schools and colleges so the latest generation can learn about Gandhi's legacy in the country.

The South African and Indian governments are both taking part in the centenary of the Phoenix settlement.

An international exhibition is being held in Durban this year celebrating the lives of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.

Historic places associated with Gandhi's life such as Phoenix, his house in Johannesburg and the Pietermaritzburg railway station where Gandhi was thrown out of a whites-only carriage in 1893, are also being promoted as educational tourism sites.

Ela, daughter of Mahatma's second son, Manilal, says that for a long time apartheid kept away many foreign tourists and only in the past six or seven years have they started visiting places associated with Gandhi.

1893: Gandhi arrives in South Africa
1894: Natal Indian Congress established
1903: Weekly newspaper Indian Opinion started
1904: Phoenix settlement established
1907: Non-violent resistance against compulsory registration of Asians
1914: Gandhi leaves for India

Gandhi historians lament that many South African Indians are unaware of the importance of the Phoenix settlement.

"The commune played a crucial role in shaping the ideals of a Western-educated barrister who became a Mahatma, or great soul," says Durban-based historian Haseem Seedat.

The then white government of Natal, now a South African province, had passed laws curbing the trading rights of the Indian community.

Gandhi realised Indians needed to organise politically to fight for their rights.

He founded the Natal Indian Congress in 1894 and launched his struggle.

"Gandhi concentrated on the laws against Indians and campaigned actively against these laws. In the process he went to jail several times and finally left the country," says Mr Seedat.

Key role

But Gandhi's life in South Africa is not without controversy.

Mahatma Gandhi: Revered as father of the nation
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi spent 21 years in South Africa

When Gandhi's bronze statue was unveiled in Johannesburg late last year, newspapers published letters from some Africans who questioned the move.

They complained that Gandhi fought only for the Indians and not for the majority blacks.

Ela Gandhi vehemently denies that his grandfather was not interested in the affairs of black people.

"Gandhi did not want to impose his leadership on them. He felt that Africans should carry out their own struggle. In fact, many African National Congress leaders have given credit for Mahatma for being their source of inspiration."

Despite controversies, historians like Haseem Seedat feel that South Africa played a key role in Gandhi's future success.

"He developed his political philosophies in South Africa which he successfully employed in the Indian independence struggle."

Mahatma Gandhi's fading dream
31 Mar 04  |  South Asia
Picture Gallery: Gandhi's Birthday
02 Oct 02  |  Politics
Politician ordered to read Gandhi
18 Sep 03  |  South Asia
India in Gandhi tribute
21 Feb 03  |  India
The lost legacy of Mahatma Gandhi
30 Jan 98  |  In Depth
'Sorry Gandhi' - 105 years later
27 Jul 99  |  Africa

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific