A bust of Mahatma Gandhi was unveiled by President Pratibha Patil at the prestigious Constitutional Court Complex of South Africa, where Gandhi had served four prison terms between 1908 and 1913, including his very first sentence in South Africa in the Number Four Cell.
Recalling that many of the prisoners incarcerated in the complex were guilty of non-political crimes while some including Mahatma Gandhi were charged with resisting the unjust race laws, Ms. Patil hoped that the bust would symbolise the values enshrined in the histories of India and South Africa and strengthen the resolve of the two countries to fight injustice and inequality in the world.
The bust was brought by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations and sculpted by Gautam Pal.
Ms. Patil, who also visited an exhibition on the life and times of Gandhi in the complex, said the former South African President, Nelson Mandela, too had been imprisoned in this old fort for some time.
Ms. Patil said Mr. Mandela had in 1994 — Gandhi's 125th birth anniversary — described his affinity with him thus: “Though separated in time, there remains a bond between us, in our shared prison experiences, our defiance of unjust laws and in the fact that violence threatens our aspirations for peace and reconciliation.”
The President's visit to the complex assumed significance as South Africa was the place where the world witnessed for the first time Gandhi's methods of political transformation through non-violence and peaceful dialogue.
“This [South Africa] is a country with which India and the people of India have very deep-rooted links — links that have changed the course of India's history. The people of India owe a deep sense of gratitude to South Africa for giving us the Mahatma,” Ms. Patil said.
Noting that “our countries uphold the fundamental principles of peace, non-violence and dialogue to maintain the global order of equality and justice based on Gandhian values,” Ms. Patil said: “The decision by the United Nations to observe October 2 — Gandhi's birthday — as the International Day of Non-Violence points to the recognition of his philosophy as an instrument for promoting peace in the world.”
Mahatma Gandhi's great-granddaughter, Kirti Menon, who is the chairperson of the Gandhi Centenary Committee said the unveiling of the bust and the inauguration of the exhibition would promote the message of peace and non-violence promoted by Gandhi.
Ms. Menon, who is a Registrar at a Johannesburg university, said the bust represents Gandhi as the world knows him while at Johannesburg Square his bust shows him as a young barrister. She said the events of the day were very significant as the prison complex was where Gandhi was imprisoned for the first time and where his resolve to fight apartheid was strengthened.