Call to revive Gandhi’s Tolstoy Farm in South Africa

Calls to revive the Tolstoy Farm, a desolate area which once was a thriving commune run by Mahatma Gandhi, renewed during the annual Gandhi Walk here.

Several speakers at the 27-year-old annual Gandhi Walk hosted on Sunday in Lenasia, the sprawling mainly Indian suburb south of here, said the organisers should find a way to link the annual event to the nearby Tolstoy Farm.

Over 2,000 people participated in the walk.

Mahatma Gandhi had set up the Tolstoy Farm as an experiment in community living during his tenure in Johannesburg at the turn of the last century.

The event was started as a fundraiser for building a new Gandhi Hall in Lenasia after the original Gandhi Hall in the Johannesburg city centre had to be sold in the 1970’s because it fell into a designated white area under the draconian Group Areas Act of the then white minority government.

Tolstoy Farm, less than ten kilometres from the Gandhi Hall, has fallen into disuse after the last residents left the area in the 1970’s.

Despite valiant efforts to revive some activity there, especially by Gandhian enthusiast Mohan Hira, who formed the Mahatma Gandhi Remembrance Organisation, constant vandalism has left a bare shell there.

Now the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation wants to find ways of turning Tolstoy Farm into a legacy project, with the Indian High Commission pledging support as well.

Referring to an earlier meeting between community organisations and Indian High Commissioner Virendra Gupta on the issue of Tolstoy Farm, acting Indian Consel-General in Johannesburg Nandan Bhaisora called for a follow-up: “We would like to take some further action on this and hope that something works out.

“Coal India has already assured us that it will be funding the project, so we should take it forward.”

However, the idea to rejuvenate the farm situated on the outskirt of the city also met with some scepticism as it is now part of a brick-making company.

Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of the man who led the fight against oppression in both South Africa and India to become the Mahatma, was more practical in her approach of reviving Tolstoy Farm.

“Tolstoy Farm falls in the middle of a quarry and it makes it so difficult for people to plan anything when you are a little island in the middle of a huge quarry,” Durban-based Ms. Gandhi said after impressing much younger participants as she joined the 7-km walk.

“My own gut feeling, like many other people, is that it should be revived and preserved as an important site, but I can understand the constraints of the people in Johannesburg to think of how they can preserve this site,” she said.

Ms. Gandhi also felt that a proposal to use Tolstoy Farm as a possible starting or ending point for the annual Gandhi Walk, which currently starts and ends at the Gandhi Hall, would be difficult.

“Ideally it would be a nice thing, in terms of drawing people’s attention to it, but looking at the security of the people, the logistics might be difficult,” Ms. Gandhi said.

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2021 8:53:35 AM |

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