Academics push for Gandhi-created settlement to be given Heritage Site status

29 November 2017 - 16:59 By Taschica Pillay
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the bust of Mahatma Gandhi, with Gandhi's granddaughter Ela Gandhi, at the Gandhi settlement in Phoenix, Durban.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the bust of Mahatma Gandhi, with Gandhi's granddaughter Ela Gandhi, at the Gandhi settlement in Phoenix, Durban.

A group of US academics are spearheading a project to have the Phoenix settlement in Durban declared a world heritage site.

The Phoenix settlement was established by Mahatma Gandhi in 1904 in Inanda‚ outside Durban. Gandhi used the settlement to train political activists - called satyagrahis - as well as house their families‚ while they were engaged in campaigns against unjust laws.

Lemuel Berry‚ executive director of the National Association of African American Studies in Maine‚ said there was a team working on the nomination document.

Berry‚ who is currently in South Africa meeting with Gandhi’s family‚ city planners and architects and local universities‚ said they received a letter two weeks ago that confirmed their initial submission had been put on a tentative list.

“We submitted the initial report to the United Nations Educational‚ Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in July. A committee has to review the document to establish if it is worthy of becoming a world heritage site. Knowing it is on a tentative list takes the anxiety away. We know we are heading in the right direction‚” said Berry.

He said they will be doing more research‚ compiling documents and providing maps to support their nomination. Berry said when university students conduct research into oppression around the world‚ among the names they popularly mention are Mahatma Gandhi‚ Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King.

“Mahatma Gandhi should be recognised for his contribution in dealing with oppression that was not only to Indians but also the fight against apartheid. This is not only about Mahatma Gandhi and the Phoenix Settlement but also about the contribution of Nelson Mandela in getting rid of apartheid.

"We felt there was a need to take this on as a responsibility. When a place is declared a world heritage site people from across the globe come to visit. In the first year the number of visitors is likely to increase by 37%. For the country and city of Durban it means economic growth and job creation‚” said Berry.

Ela Gandhi‚ granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi‚ said it would be wonderful if the settlement could be declared a world heritage site. She said that when Berry and other US academics visited the settlement about two years ago‚ they questioned why it had not been declared a world heritage site.

“I said I did not have the energy to do research [for the procedure]. Gandhi left a heritage in South Africa where he developed the whole Satyagraha movement. If it is recognised as a world heritage site more people‚ locally and internationally would visit.

"There is a message visitors can take back. The world is getting to be more and more materialistic and violence is increasing. Gandhi taught people to change their life and thinking‚ to apply non-violence principles. These are the thoughts contained at the Phoenix settlement‚” said Ela Gandhi.

- TimesLIVE