Portraits of India’s freedom struggle are displayed
The ‘Gandhi Museum’ at Phoenix Settlement near Durban city in South Africa is a major tourist attraction. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a 23-year-old barrister, arrived in South Africa in May 1893, on a one-year assignment to assist an Indian merchant hailing from Surat in Gujarat in a civil suit.
He had shown little interest in politics, and had little experience in organising and leading people. But he had a strong sense of duty, an attachment to truth, an urge to serve humanity.
Within days of his arrival, he was thrown off a train, denied hotel rooms and pushed off a sidewalk - all because of his colour.
He saw the dispossession and oppression of the Africans. He agreed to extend his stay in South Africa and try to help improve the situation.
It was during the resident Indian community’s struggle for civil rights, Gandhiji first employed non-violent civil disobedience movement.
Gandhiji during his more than two decades of stay in South Africa (1893-1914), established Phoenix Settlement on the north western edge of Inanda about 25 km from central Durban, in 1904.
It covers 100 acres of land with several main buildings clustered together on a small hill known as the Apex area.
Throughout its long history, the settlement played an important role both from the spiritual and political point of view, in promoting justice, peace and equality.
Even now stream of tourists from across the world attach great importance to Gandhiji and make a bee line to the Gandhi Museum to pay respects to this apostle of peace, according to Moosa, an employee of the Museum. In 1985, during the ‘Inanda Riots,’ the settlement was badly damaged.
The house where Gandhiji lived was razed to the ground. Later, it was reconstructed. The importance given to Gandhiji even now could be understood from the fact that the renovated house was officially opened by none other than the then President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki on February 27, 2000. Various charts and portraits on India’s freedom struggle, launching of Satyagranaha, his valiant struggle against racial and colour discrimination, achievements of Gandhiji, various historical events etc, are seen in the walls of this house.
In particular the charts on the topic ‘South Africa: the nursery of Gandhiji’s Experiment with Truth’, ‘face to face with aparthied’, ‘the Railway regulations preventing Indians from travelling in I or II class’ are the major attractions. The copies of the letters written by Gandhiji to world leaders, the poem titled ‘Sevak ki Prarthana’ (prayer of the servant), the only poem composed by Gandhiji, provide added attraction. Charts explaining the formation of Indian Ambulance Corps by Gandhiji to help the wounded persons following the outbreak of Boer War between Dutch Settlers and the British in 1899 also find a place on the walls.
The centenary of the Phoenix Settlement was celebrated in a fitting manner and Bhairon Singh Shekawat, the then Vice-President of India, participated in the celebration and unveiled a bust of Gandhiji in the Gandhi Museum.
Syed Muthahar Saqaf
(recently in Durban)