The Mahatma in Madibas land

Written by Steena Joy | Mumbai | Updated: Aug 13 2014, 22:36pm hrs
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Two nations. Two men. One goal: Freedom for their countrymen. As India celebrates the 68th anniversary of her Independence, Steena Joy recounts how in Inanda, a few miles from Durban, stands witness to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhis profound influence on Nelson Mandela fondly known to his countrymen as Madiba

A few miles out of Durban, winding its way through the Inanda Valley, the Inanda Heritage Route provides a snapshot of critical South African history as well as, surprisingly, a connection to India's freedom struggle. Inanda (meaning beautiful in Zulu) has historical roots that run deep, a place that experienced the injustices of apartheid first-hand, became the home of passive resistance and an icon of South Africas freedom struggle.

Birth of Satyagraha

Inanda's history dates back to the early 1800s, when KwaZulu-Natal was a Boer Republic. It was a farm then, passing hands several times as the Boers left and the British arrived, and then African and Indian farmers came here to farm sugarcane. But it was the events that unfolded at the turn of the century that shaped Inandas future and cemented an ideological bond with India. Mahatma Gandhi, then a lawyer, arrived in the region to represent an Indian client. After the infamous incident when he was thrown off a train for sitting in a whites only section, Gandhi stayed on in Inanda.

It's this wealth of history that you can explore on the Inanda Heritage Route. The trail starts in Phoenix Settlement, established in 1904 by Gandhi. Here you can see Gandhi's house and his International Printing Press and Museum. Gandhis residence named Sarvodaya house was built in 1907 by his close friend, German architect Hermann Kallenbach. The original house was razed to the ground by apartheid violence in August 1985. It was reconstructed and opened to visitors in 2000, putting back an important page in the history of both South Africa and India. The Satyagraha House is now a registered part of South Africas historical heritage. Within these walls, the Mahatma created and developed his philosophy of passive resistance or Satyagraha in Sanskrit which he employed in India to lead the country to independence. Satyagraha was born and evolved in South Africa before coming to India and, eventually, the world.

The house also has a museum retracing Gandhis experiences in South Africa and those that he shared here with his friend Kallenbach. In the complex, stands the International Printing Press which Gandhi founded. In 1903, he started a newspaper Opinion (originally known as Indian Opinion) which continued publication until 1961.

Madiba, son of Africa

When Gandhi left the country his Satyagraha ideal left an impact on Nelson Mandela and found an echo in Mandelas struggle to free his land from the shame of apartheid. In 1994, Nelson Mandela cast his vote in South Africa's first democratic elections at Inanda's Ohlange High School, this was symbolic because this was where the first president of the ANC, Dr John L Dube, established South Africas first school by a black person in 1901.

After the vote, Mandela visited the grave of Dr Dube lying adjacent to the school and whispered Mr President I have come to report to you that South Africa is now free.

A little away from Inanda, at Howick in the Kwa Zulu Natals Midlands, stands a memorial in mute testimony to one of the most historic moments in South Africas freedom saga.

This was where on August 5, 1962, armed apartheid police flagged down a vehicle driven by Mandela, pretending to be a chauffeur. He was returning from a clandestine visit with African National Congress (ANC) president chief Albert Luthuli. Having evaded capture by apartheid police for 17 months, Mandela was finally captured on this road after which he disappeared from public eye for the next 27 years.

Mandelas Long Walk to Freedom began on that fateful stretch of road which irrevocably interlinked the history of South Africa to Mandela. On the land hugging this road stands a beautiful sculpture, the Nelson Mandela Capture Site, erected by the Department of Co-operative Government and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), the uMgeni Municipality, the Apartheid Museum and the KwaZulu Natal Heritage Council (AMAFA), in association with the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory. The intriguing sculpture by artist Marco Cianfanelli consists of 50 laser-cut steel poles between 8 and 10 meters tall, arranged in a pattern that allows the viewer a flat image of the face of Mandela when approached from the front. The 50 steel columns represent the 50 years since his capture. They also portray the idea of many making a whole.