Gandhian scholars have expressed disappointment at the condition of several places in South Africa associated with Mahatma Gandhi and asked the South African and Indian governments to come together to revive the legacy of the Indian leader in the country.
The Gandhian scholars participating in an online conference also said all Gandhian organisations across the globe need to unite to spread Gandhi's message.
"That is how we can gain strength,” said Dr Sriram Sooty, who led a large delegation from the US to the first online meeting of the Delhi-based Gandhi King Foundation following the Gandhi-King-Mandela International Conference held in Pietermaritzburg last week. The group has been meeting online weekly for several years now.
“We can put our funding together where and direct it where it is needed at the three Gandhian centres in South Africa,” Sooty added after sharing his disappointment that the people taking care of Tolstoy Farm in Johannesburg were not working together with the Phoenix Settlement in Durban, the two ashrams that Gandhi established during his tenure in the cities.
The third area he was referring to was Pietermaritzburg, the site of Gandhi’s start to developing Satyagraha and leading the people of South Africa and India to fight oppression after he was thrown off a train because he was in a compartment reserved for whites only.
"These three centres need attention. I can upgrade Pietermaritzburg to the extent I can, but somebody else has to do the Phoenix Settlement and Tolstoy Farm. The South African and the Indian government should come together.
“This is a geopolitical issue. Once the BRICS countries ( Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) come together, hopefully, Gandhi will get the recognition that he deserves,” Sooty said.
Other participants concurred with Sooty that there was a great need to involve the youth in Gandhian projects.
“To concentrate on youth, I created the global Gandhi Youth Misson, with the dream of starting a website to take it forward. This is my mission for the rest of my life and possibly to bring some youth to Pietermaritzburg next year,” Sooty said.
Alagan Annamalai, Director of the National Gandhi Museum in Delhi, who led the Indian delegation, said he was also disappointed at what he saw for the first time as he shared how there were photos of Tolstoy Farm in the Gandhi Museum which was not at all how it is now.
“We had a lot of imagination about South Africa and Gandhi’s work because we have studied ‘Satyagraha in South Africa’ and the experiences of Gandhi there. Some of the places where Gandhi was seriously associated are not what we had imagined it to be.
“We have seen Phoenix Settlement and Tolstoy Farm through Gandhi and his autobiography but in reality, it was very shocking to see all the places,” Annamalai said as he called on the group to assist in reviving the legacy of Gandhi in South Africa.
“We have the responsibility of taking the legacy of Gandhi to the people and at the same time preserve the history of Satyagraha in South Africa. We have to do a lot more,” Annamalai added as he also questioned how there was nothing about Herman Kallenbach, the German friend of Gandhi who donated the land for Tolstoy Farm to be established, at the site.
Referring to the bust of Nelson Mandela which stands next to that of Gandhi at Tolstoy Farm, Annamalai said this was fine, as it was there because he was the president of the country.
“But Mandela had nothing to do with Tolstoy Farm. They should have a statue of Kallenbach at least,” he said.
Mohan Hira, The South African Indian-origin Gandhian enthusiast who has spearheaded the revival of Tolstoy Farm for several decades after it had been razed to the ground, told PTI that a commemorative plaque acknowledging Kallenbach’s role is due to be officially unveiled in a few weeks’ time at Tolstoy Farm.
Hira, the co-founder of the Mahatma Gandhi Remembrance Organisation, also pointed out that the Indian government has indeed been supportive of developing Tolstoy Farm.
“In the past few years in particular, the Consulate has arranged funding from India and the expatriate companies in South Africa to develop the facilities that are now at Tolstoy Farm, but we do need much more,” he said, conceding that more could also be done by the South African government.
The Indian government has also supported the Phoenix Settlement for a number of years, the latest being the donation of computers for a training centre there.
Shortly before his retirement earlier this year, High Commissioner Jaideep Sarkar called for Tolstoy Farm to be declared a National Heritage Site, as is the case with the Phoenix Settlement.
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