Place that transformed Gandhi into ‘Mahatma’ (Durban Diary)

Durban, March 26 (IANS) India sent Gandhi to South Africa and South Africa sent back to India a Mahatma. This is often quoted by South Africans to reflect the strong bonding the two nations share. And the place that transformed Gandhi into India’ Father of the Nation is not far from this city.

It was in Pietermaritzburg, the capital of KwaZulu-Natal province, some 80 km from here, where the infamous incident took place in 1893 when Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a “brown-skinned” youth, was thrown out of a first class compartment at the instance of a European despite holding a valid ticket.
That incident made Gandhi think of his rights and duties as a human and to brush aside his own hardship as a mere a symptom of the deep disease of colour prejudice. On that date began his resolve to indulge in active non-violence as a form of protest.
At the Pietermaritzburg station, four plaques in the waiting area, where Gandhi spent the night, and a granite column, where he was evicted from the train, have been installed as a memorial to that incident and a tribute.
Durban’s proximity to Gandhi does not end with that incident.
It was in Phoenix Settlement, around 20 km from this city, where Gandhi first used his so-called weapons – satyagraha, sarvodaya and ahimsa – which loosely translate into insistence on truth, universal uplift and non-violence.
What started as an experiment in 1904 for the rights of mine and sugarcane workers, as also the liberation of women, became an important tool that eventually helped India gain independence from the British.
The settlement of some 100 acres in the northern quarters of Durban was vandalized in 1985 by right-wing vigilantes at the peak of apartheid violence in South Africa. Sarvodaya, as the settlement is called, was rebuilt and re-inaugurated in 2000. The area around it is called Bhambayi, after Bombay.
(Arvind Padmanabhan can be reached at [email protected])