Johannesburg: The 146th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi was celebrated today at South Africa’s historic Constitutional Hill where both Gandhi and later anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela were once imprisoned. Indian High Commissioner Ruchi Ghanashyam led a number of people in garlanding a bust of Gandhi at Constitutional Hill outside a permanent exhibition of his time in South Africa. The bust was unveiled by former president Pratibha Patil in 2012.
Two South African freedom fighters’ grandchildren reminisced about the role their grandfathers played in Gandhi’s efforts in mobilising South Africans against discriminatory laws during his tenure in this country at the turn of the last century. Saeeda Cachalia explained how her grandfather Ismail Cachalia, popularly known as Molvi after he graduated from an Islamic institution in Lucknow, went back to India to seek advice from Gandhi on continuing the struggle in South Africa.
“He went with Dr Yusuf Dadoo (leader of the South African Indian Congress) and Gandhiji told them they were so young that he could not see how they could take the struggle forward. He told them to come back the next day, when he told them to try and see where they could get,” Cachalia said. Both men became veterans of the fight against apartheid until their death.
Cachalia recalled how the first office of the African National Congress ANC outside South Africa was opened by her grandfather in India, which was the first country to openly support the ANC.
Prema Naidoo, now a councillor in Johannesburg, also spent time in the then prison as an activist. Naidoo related how his grandfather Thambi Naidoo, an immigrant from Mauritius, became one of Gandhi’s most trusted lieutenants.
Ghanashyam said the two men should be honoured alongside all three generations of their families who were steeped in the struggle for democracy in South Africa. “Mahatma Gandhi has been described by many scholars as the first activist against apartheid, because it was the policies that tried to keep the Indian community at a certain level, which he first started against,” Ghanashyam said.
“I am always struck by how at a time when there was no social media and when communications and transport was so difficult that they had to walk miles and miles and miles to reach somewhere, they managed to mobilise people to such an extent that their faith spread not just in South Africa but also to London and India and thereafter to everywhere else,” Ghanashyam added.