Gandhi's Johannesburg

MOHANDAS KARAMCHAND GANDHI was twenty-four years old when he boarded the train in Durban bound for the Transvaal. He had not intended to leave the train anywhere en route, but he did so in Pietermaritzburg and the story of his unexpected interlude on the Pietermaritzburg railway platform and years that followed is still inadequately known.

From 1893 to 1914 Gandhi waged battle after racial discrimination. Through much of that was spent in Durban and in the Phoenix Settlement which he established outside Durban, a good deal also in the Transvaal - in Pretoria, Johannesburg and on the fecund acreage of Tolstoy Farm near that city where, under his direct attention, fruit and passive resistance grew.

It was in these Plastics that Gandhi moved - helped others move - into the domain of future history, lawyer, activist, pamphleteer, journalist, author, farmer, householder, passive resister, prisoner and negotiator, he made lifelong friends there and found causes and affiliations that were to last him a lifetime.

In various homes, offices, legal chambers, courts and in the public spaces in which he was seen, he came to be understood , respected, trusted and loved. But such were the complexities of his understanding, and such his sense of fair play, that he also spurned, misunderstood, reviled and attacked - verbally and even physically.

Gandhi emerged from each of those experiences with greater strength and determination to meet the challenges that lay in the future. And it was here, in the ebb and flow of the outer struggle, that he came to terms with some of his inner conflicts, in the resolution of which his wife Kasturba played a singularly important and defining role.

Gandhi was forty-six when he left South Africa. Natal and the Transvaal, he scenes of brave resistance and trusting accords, had already made him, after Dadabhai Naoroji, the best known Indian outside India.

This carefully researched book takes the reader to those paths and sites and near Johannesburg where the alchemised Gandhi worked and gave practical shape to his new-found vision. But the book also more. It suggests coordinates for the kind of principled linkages that Gandhi would have wanted us to seek in our present times. For, if great destinations have been reached in countries like South Africa and India, new journeys that lie further ahead are also coming sharply to view.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi

High Commissioning for India in South Africa,1997-1998