‘Thank you for giving us Mahatma Gandhi’

August 17th, 2008 - 10:31 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Ambika Soni
By Fakir Hassen
Johannesburg, Aug 17 (IANS) The suburb of Newtown here, once home to hundreds of South African Indians who were forcibly resettled under draconian apartheid laws, was awash with orange as India’s Tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni joined many local dignitaries in celebrating the 100th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s historic march. Gandhi, then a lawyer fighting discrimination of Indian immigrants here, had spearheaded a peaceful protest against a law making it mandatory for Asiatics to carry registration certificates with them. After participating in a march led by him, hundreds had publicly burnt such documents at the Hamidia Mosque here to mark their resistance to the oppressive law.

Soni, wearing over her sari the same specially prepared orange commemorative T-shirt as all the other marchers, chatted with many young scholars who had joined the march after they watched films on the life and times of the Mahatma.

“I have come on this pilgrimage for two days to say thank you for giving India its leader who led us to freedom,” Soni told the large crowd gathered at the mosque before she, her South African counterpart Pallo Jordan, and African National Congress (ANC) deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe led hundreds of people in symbolically burning copies of original registration certificates in a bonfire.

“Thank you for giving us Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi - not the lawyer, advocate and barrister who came to South Africa to fight the cases of the Indian community; but thank you for giving us Mahatma Gandhi.”

Waving her copy of the registration paper, she said: “This little paper was enough to trigger off the movement which went on in India until 1947 and which went on in South Africa till 1994, when you had your elections and you had a popularly elected government of the majority community.

“I am going to take a paper like this back for my seven-year-old granddaughter, and I’m going to tell her what this little paper, which made human beings feel like criminals, is all about.”

Motlanthe said: “The history of the peoples of India and South Africa is but one interwoven fabric of shared suffering and struggle and Mahatma Gandhi was in the forefront in the forward trenches of those struggles.

Quoting first Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Motlanthe called on the audience to resolve to follow the Mahatma’s ideals: “Gandhi was not merely fighting for the oppressed to free themselves from white domination, but also fighting for the banishment of war, poverty, ignorance and division among all of our people.”

Confirming Motlanthe’s call, Indian High Commissioner Rajiv Bhatia said: “The conviction with which I will return from this celebration of the 100th anniversary of ‘the 1908 Bonfire Gandhi walk’ is that Gandhiji’s ideas and ideals have a universal and lasting value; that they remain as relevant today as they were a hundred years ago; and that the only question is whether we have the moral fibre to follow them for the larger good of our people and the world.”

The march was one of a series of events jointly organised by the Gandhi Centenary Committee, headed by Gandhi’s great-granddaughter Kirti Menon, the Indian High Commission in South Africa and a number of cultural and academic institutions here.

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