In 1893, M.K. “Mahatma” Gandhi came to South Africa as a young lawyer seeking to start his law career. However, after he experienced first hand a traumatic incident of racial discrimination in Pietermaritzburg S.A., he dedicated himself to the pursuit of social justice and equal rights. During the 21 years he lived in South Africa, he developed and implemented his seminal strategy of Satyagraha, which is chronicled in his book “Satyagraha in South Africa.” While in South Africa, he also founded Phoenix Settlement, a communal ashram that served as the location for much of his sociopolitical and spiritual work.*
*Source: Varun Soni at HuffingtonPost.com
Mahatma Gandhi’s granddaughter, noted scholar Ela Gandhi, has spent her life as the custodian of his legacy in South Africa as well as the caretaker of Phoenix Settlement. She is also a prominent peace activist and served as a Member of Parliament in South Africa from 1994-2004. In 2007, she was conferred the Padma Bhushan award from the Government of India, which is India’s third highest civilian award. Huffpost’s Varun Soni recently had the opportunity to meet Ela Gandhi in Durban, South Africa and they discussed the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, the transition to democracy in South Africa, the evolution of the Indian community in South Africa and the politics of the African National Congress (ANC).
From Huffpost –
When Mahatma Gandhi left South Africa for India in 1914, your father went with him. Why did your father return from India to South Africa to live at the Phoenix settlement?
After my grandfather returned to India from South Africa, he was called back to South Africa for various reasons. So he asked my father and uncle to return to South Africa and carry on the work he left behind. They settled in Phoenix Settlement but it was difficult to live there because there were no services. So my uncle went back to India while my father continued on in South Africa. While in South Africa, my father ran the Indian Opinion, which is the newspaper that my grandfather started in 1903.
In 1949, the Durban Riots between Zulus and Indians left 142 people dead and created a deep rift between the two communities. What was the impact of the riots on Phoenix Settlement and what are your memories of that time?
My memory is that of a 9-year-old. We were in Durban when the riots began and panic spread quickly through the city. My dad was overseas at the time so my brother picked us up by car and rushed us home. On the way, children were throwing stones at our car. When we got back to Phoenix Settlement, people told us that this is God’s place and no one will touch it. So both Zulus and Indians protected Phoenix Settlement and nothing happened to the settlement during the riots.
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