Ambika Soni to lead historic Gandhi march in South Africa

August 3rd, 2008 - 2:57 pm ICT by IANS  


Johannesburg, Aug 3 (IANS) India’s Tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni will join a number of South African community leaders in leading a march here Aug 16 to commemorate the centenary of a historic march organised by Mahatma Gandhi against an oppressive discriminatory law. The march will be part of a series of events organised by the Indian mission here in conjunction with a range of community bodies. 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 with registration certificates, which they had to show to any policeman who asked 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.

Among Gandhi’s first actions was to publish an interpretation of the new Act in Indian languages, pointing out how insulting the law was in demanding that Indians give prints of their ten fingers, as if they were criminals.

Gandhi was also instrumental in engaging with and getting the support of the Chinese community, to whom these laws also applied.

But probably Gandhi’s most famous tool for resistance, Satyagraha, was also born during this time. This passive resistance saw the government of the day trying to engage the community through Gandhi, but after long negotiations with Prime Minister Jan Smuts failed, drastic action was agreed upon.

Gandhi led a group of some 3,000 citizens on a protest march against the infamous Registration Certificates, which culminated at the Hamidia Mosque in the suburb of Newtown here 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 events of Aug 16, 1908 are regarded as an important milestone in the evolution of passive resistance as a form of protest against racial discrimination and apartheid and will be commemorated in several ways,” Indian Consul-General Navdeep Suri told IANS.

“The centerpiece of these commemorative events is of course the March, but the Indian Consulate has also brought in a wide range of community, civil society and other organizations because Mahatma Gandhi’s message of non-violence and passive resistance against injustice remains as relevant today as it was in 1908. The recent incidents of (xenophobic) violence in Johannesburg, Cape Town and other areas make it especially poignant”.

Other activities to mark the event include lectures at academic institutions, screenings of films on the life and times of Gandhi, and an exhibition at Museum Africa here of Gandhi memorabilia.

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