South Africa and India relived the historic moment Mahatma Gandhi was expelled from a “whites only” compartment in Pietermaritzburg‚ on yesterday (Thursday 07/06/2018).
To mark the 125th anniversary of the peace icon’s expulsion from the first-class compartment – an incident that set-in motion Gandhi’s peaceful revolution – the two governments jointly hosted a two-day event in the KwaZulu-Natal capital‚ which kicked off on Wednesday with a gala dinner that was addressed by India’s external affairs minister‚ Sushma Swaraj.
She described Gandhi and late former state president Nelson Mandela as icons who gave hope “to generations to come‚ by ensuring that our values and principles‚ which we hold sacred‚ are forever enshrined in our psyche and in our constitutions”.
On Thursday about 300 local and foreign dignitaries including Swaraj‚ Indian high commissioner Ruchira Kamboj and South Africa’s deputy minister of international relations and cooperation‚ Luwellyn Landers‚ boarded a replica train to make the same journey Gandhi undertook from Pentrich Station to Pietermaritzburg station in 1893.
The train was adorned with marigolds and khadi – the hand-woven natural fibre cloth that became Gandhi’s symbol of resistance against colonial rule and later a fashion symbol in India.
The event also included a digital exhibition at the waiting hall of the Pietermaritzburg station‚ where Gandhi spent the night after he was thrown off the train. Gandhi coins and stamps‚ as well as a two-sided bust of the Mahatma were also expected to be unveiled.
The department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) said in a statement that “South Africa was central to forging Gandhi’s identity as a political activist and his time here was an important prelude in developing his thinking prior to his return to India”.
Dirco added that former president Nelson Mandela had later acknowledged that the “values of tolerance‚ mutual respect and unity for which Gandhi stood and acted had a profound impact on South Africa’s own liberation movement and on his own thinking”.
The department said the commemoration of the train incident allowed the two countries to re-affirm the need to eradicate racism‚ “the scourge of which continues in our societies 125 years later”.
According to the department‚ India and South Africa’s strong bilateral relations are “anchored by a deep and shared history of friendship and solidarity”.
India is currently one of South Africa’s top ten trade partners. In 2017 bilateral trade reached R107-billion.