The Indian High Commissioner in South Africa, Ruchira Kamboj.

Durban - A two-day celebration is being planned to honour the man whose activism skills honed in South Africa were used to help free India from British rule.

It also started when young Indian lawyer Mahatma Gandhi, who went on to became a global symbol of passive resistance and non-violent civil disobedience, was thrown out of a first-class train compartment at the Pietermaritzburg railway station in 1893 - 125 years ago.

The Indian High Commissioner in South Africa, Ruchira Kamboj, said Gandhi had spent 21 years in the country and was as much South African as Indian.

“He took the non-violent weapon to India and rewrote the history books as the father of free India,” she told POST.

“So, for us, it was in South Africa that he developed this powerful weapon this incredible legacy we share, the legacy and the story is at the heart of the matter.”

Kamboj said Nelson Mandela, whose 100th birth anniversary is celebrated this year, when referring to Gandhi, had said the “soul of India lies in South Africa”.

To commemorate the 125th anniversary of the defining train incident, an elaborate two-day event next month will not only seek to pay homage to Gandhi, but highlight the importance of his satyagraha teachings.

It would focus on peace, co-existence and non-violence, the tributes Gandhi stood for, said Kamboj.

“There is so much racism, hatred and violence and the teachings of Gandhi are needed now more than ever."

“Forgiveness, reconciliation, peace and non-violence was at the forefront of both Nelson Mandela’s and Gandhi’s teachings."

"Peaceful solutions are lasting solutions.”

The activities on June 6 and 7, she said, flow from the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and would be broadcast live in India and South Africa.

The Pietermaritzburg City Hall will be lit up in the colours of India and South Africa.

“The famous Gandhi statue on Church Street will also be lit up and, of course, the train station,” said Kamboj. 

India’s Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj would be present, she added.

A cultural dance fusion by the Kantharuby Dance Academy will add to the ambience and both countries’ national anthems will be performed on a century-old organ on June 6.

Guests will travel from Pentrich Station to Pietermaritzburg Station the following day where a re-enactment of the famous Gandhi incident would be performed by actors.

The train’s engine will be draped in khadi, a special hand-woven cloth made popular by Gandhi.

A two-sided bust of Gandhi will be unveiled on the station platform.

“One side will be Mahatma Gandhi the lawyer in Western attire as he came to South Africa, and the other side will be of him in his Indian attire as he left South Africa after 21 years, returning to transform India,” said Kamboj. 

“All the clocks will also be turned to 9pm, simply because it was at 9pm that Gandhi was removed from the first-class train compartment.”

She revealed that a digital museum, Gandhi coins minted in silver, and a coffee table book comprising quotes from people of prominence, of what the incident meant to them, would be other key features.

A youth literary competition was launched recently and had received a fairly good response, she added.

“The top two will win an all-expenses paid trip to Dubai.”

Kamboj said the Indian government planned on further developing the Gandhi Settlement in Inanda - perhaps digitalising its museum.

POST