‘Mohandas became Mahatma courtesy South African Indian community’

August 17th, 2008 - 1:41 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Ambika Soni
By Fakir Hassen
Johannesburg, Aug 17 (IANS) Mahatma Gandhi might have been a just a footnote in history if it were not for the support of the South African Indian community that brought him here as a young lawyer and got him started on his now legendary struggle against oppression, according to South African Arts and Culture Minister Pallo Jordan. “We all know and speak highly of Mahatma Gandhi, but very few people will ever give recognition to the fact that without the support of the Indian community in South Africa, the name Mahatma Gandhi would not even have been a footnote in history,” Jordan said.

He was speaking at Saturday’s centenary celebrations of a historic event led by Gandhi at the Hamidia Mosque here.

Hundreds of people including South African dignitaries and India’s Culture and Tourism Minister Ambika Soni joined him in burning copies of the registration certificates that all people of Indian and Chinese descent were required to carry under a law in 1908.

Gandhi’s protest march against it is widely seen as one of the first acts of his philosophy of Satyagraha.

“(Gandhi’s) experiments in Satyagraha; his experiments in harnessing non-violence as a power of truth and bearing witness against oppression, proved successful because the Mahatma’s call received a response from the Indian community of this country,” Jordan said to a loud applause from the hundreds of locals, expatriates and children who had gathered outside the mosque for the first in a series of events to mark the centenary.

“So Satyagraha is the singular contribution that South Africans of Indian descent have made to the history of not only South Africa and India, but many other parts of the world.”

Jordan said it should never be forgotten the rallying to Gandhi’s call by the thousands of Indian South Africans had been: “There is a tendency, especially today, to relegate the role of various communities and individuals to the background. That is very wrong; it is an injustice; and I think it is a misrepresentation of the truth.”

He said the rejection of the registration papers by the Indian community at that time had proved to the world that an oppressive law could be made unworkable.

“That was a lesson that has gone throughout the world and has informed every struggle in the 20th century. In honouring Gandhiji, we must also honour and recognise the singular contribution made by this community, to the struggle for liberation here and in every other part of the world.”

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