Mandela and the Mahatma

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Updated: July 18, 2018 3:21:15 PM

Two nations. Two men. One goal: Freedom for their countrymen. Today July 18 (known globally as Mandela Day) 2018, as the world celebrates the birth centenary of Nelson Mandela, come discover Inanda, a few miles from Durban, which stands witness to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's profound influence on 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 Africa’s 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 Inanda’s 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. Gandhi’s 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 Gandhi’s 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 Mandela’s 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 Africa’s 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.

Mandela’s 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. Apart from the Capture Site, the following are the places that Mandela fans must visit.

Robben Island

Nelson Mandela spent 18 immensely challenging years in prison on this little island situated off the coast of Cape Town and yet emerged from it filled with forgiveness instead of hatred. Robben Island is now a World Heritage site and museum. Although from the 17 th to the 20 th century the island was a place of imprisonment – today it is a beacon of hope and a place where visitors can gain some insight into the life and times of Nelson Mandela and fellow freedom fighters. Trips to Robben Island begin from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the A Waterfront, where ferries transfer you to the former prison.

Constitution Hill

Through the years, the Constitution Hill functioned mainly as a prison. It was here that many passive resistors and freedom fighters including the Father of our Nation – Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela were held; the site has two permanent exhibitions that revolve around the lives of both these revolutionaries. A walk through Number Four section of the prison, reading up on the horrific conditions of the time and the difference in how prisoners of different races were treated, quickly hammers home the need for radical reform and equality for which Mandela was fighting – and ultimately achieved. The Constitution Hill in Johannesburg is now a fascinating museum and the home to South Africa’s constitutional court.

Apartheid Museum

Apartheid – a system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination, had infiltrated every nerve of the country. These dogmas (or the resistance towards them) helped shape Mandela’s entire life and nowhere can you get a better grip on what transpired during the proceeding struggle than at the Apartheid Museum, situated south of Johannesburg. The Apartheid Museum opened in 2001 and is acknowledged throughout the world for its illustrious display of the rise and fall of Apartheid. Allow yourself at least a couple of hours to soak it all in, and get over an emotional yet interactive and informative visit.

Mandela House

Situated in Vilakazi Street, the humble home Mandela moved into in 1946, the Mandela House gives visitors great insight into the Mandela family. “It was the opposite of grand,” he wrote in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, “but it was my first true home of my own and I was mightily proud.” The house is filled with memorabilia about the family, complete with photographs and visuals and is a fitting tribute to the incredible struggle for freedom. Vilakazi Street is usually flooded with visitors wanting a glimpse into the home of the great Madiba – hence getting an early start to this place might be a good idea.

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