Soni to lead Gandhi March in South Africa

August 12th, 2008 - 6:01 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Ambika Soni

New Delhi, Aug 12 (IANS) Tourism Minister Ambika Soni is set to leave for Johannesburg where she will later this week lead prominent South African groups in commemorating the 100 years of Mahatma Gandhi’s historic march against an oppressive discriminatory law of the then colonial rulers there. “It is a matter of pride that I am representing India and will be part of the historic moment on Aug 16. The fight against discrimination is still on,” Soni told IANS Tuesday.

Soni, who is also culture minister, is leaving for Johannesburg Aug 14 and will also sign an agreement on culture, archaeology, handicrafts, exhibitions, exchange of artisans, books, experts and films with her South African counterpart on Aug 15.

“The symbolic march up to the Hamidia Mosque will reflect what were the conditions at that time and how Mahatma Gandhiji fought against racism and apartheid. The experience he gained in South Africa… he single-handedly spearheaded a struggle for freedom in India. His struggle not only ensured India’s independence but also for the region,” she said.

The original march was prompted by the Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance of August 1906, requiring any person of Indian origin to register by a certain date or forego the right to live in then Transvaal province of South Africa.

Every Indian man, woman or child older than eight years was required to register with a government official called the Registrar of Asiatics. This registrar would also take the fingerprints of the people registered and issue them registration certificates, which they had to show to any policeman who demanded to see them. An Indian who could not produce a certificate could be fined and sent to prison.

Outraged by this new discriminatory law, the Transvaal Indian Congress asked Gandhi, then resident in Durban, to come to Transvaal to assist in fighting this injustice legally.

Gandhi led a group of some 3,000 citizens on a protest march Aug 16, 1908, which culminated at the Hamidia Mosque in the suburb of Newtown with a symbolic bonfire as infuriated Indians burnt about 800 registration certificates in a large cauldron outside as an act of defiance against the registration and immigration laws.

“The march will renew our commitment against racial discrimination and discrimination in economic and social terms,” Soni said.

She will address a public rally and participate in a symbolic bonfire.

“I will also meet the culture minister (Z. Pallo Jordan) and we will sign a cultural exchange programme between the two countries,” she added.

India, which has no pact with South Africa in the area of culture, hopes to attract more tourists from there. In 2004, 32,148 South Africans travelled to India and the number went up to 39,229 the next year. In 2006, the figure was 41,954.

Soni will be the guest of honour at the Independence Day reception hosted by the Indian high hommission at Pretoria. She will also visit the Cruegar National Park and will return to India Aug 19 via Dubai.

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