16 October 2014

Website on Mahatma Gandhi's South African sojourn launched

The year 2014 marks 100 years since Mahatma Gandhi left South Africa for good after spending his formative years in this country. A new South African Tourism website traces his 21-year path in South Africa.

A highlight is video featuring Ela Gandhi, daughter of Gandhi’s second son, Manilal, who talks about her famous grandfather.

Known for its digital innovations, South African Tourism has launched its latest offering: Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa, a website that encourages tourists to follow in the footsteps of the great political leader Mahatma Gandhi.

This year marks 100 years since Gandhi left South Africa for India, after a 21-year sojourn in this country. He arrived in 1893 as a young lawyer in his early 20s and left an emerging world leader, ready to take up the cudgels against British rule in India.

The launch of the new Gandhi website took place on October 16 at Satyagraha House in Orchards, Johannesburg, where Gandhi lived for a brief period with his close friend and supporter, Hermann Kallenbach.

The event was attended by the Indian Acting High Commissioner to South Africa, T Armstrong Changsan, the author of Gandhi's Johannesburg: Birthplace of Satyagraha, Eric Itzkin, and South African Tourism's CEO, Thulani Nzima.

In his address, Nzima said this initiative followed the launch of a  Mandela-inspired tourism map earlier this year. He hoped this would be yet another way of attracting visitors to South Africa, as people all over the world wished to follow in the footsteps of these two great leaders.

Some of the Gandhi-inspired attractions worth visiting in South Africa Some of the Gandhi-inspired attractions worth visiting in South Africa

Changsan expressed gratitude that the Gandhi story in South Africa was finally being recognised, and said the Indian government and other groups were working at restoring some of the Gandhi sites to their full potential.

This includes a project to create a Garden of Remembrance at Tolstoy Farm, outside Johannesburg, where Gandhi once lived, and an upgrade at Pietermaritzburg Station, where Gandhi was famously evicted from a train. There will also be a Gandhi conference at the University of the Witwatersrand next year.

Itzkin remarked it was often said that 'India gave us Mohandas, and South Africa gave back the Mahatma'. He added: 'We are fortunate in this country to walk in the footsteps of the giants of non-violence.'

Although the story of Gandhi’s role in Indian independence is well known, not many people are aware of the full extent of his influence in South Africa, and this story goes way beyond the famous train incident.

The website looks at the many roles that Gandhi played during his South African sojourn – from  lawyer through to campaigner, stretcher-bearer during the South African War (also known as the Anglo-Boer War), publisherfriend and celebrity. It also directs users to 13 Gandhi-related attractions throughout the country, such as Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, where Gandhi was imprisoned, and the Phoenix Settlement near Durban, where a newspaper he founded, the Indian Opinion, was published for many years. 

A highlight is video clips featuring Ela Gandhi, daughter of Gandhi’s second son, Manilal, who talks about her famous grandfather at Phoenix where she grew up.

Although Gandhi was never to return to South Africa after 1914, the many lessons he learnt here through his satyagraha (truth-force) campaigns against discriminatory legislation against Indians had a profound bearing on his political trajectory, and influenced the passive resistance anti-apartheid campaigns of the ANC in the 1950s and 60s.

'The Gandhi project was a deeply enriching process for us,' says Tara Turkington, CEO of Flow Communications. Flow is one of South Africa’s leading communications and digital agencies and the company responsible for the site.

'It was fascinating to uncover the Gandhi story and to bring together beautiful design, photography, video and web capabilities into one package, that we hope will inspire many tourists to walk in Gandhi's footsteps.'

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