125 years later - Gandhi's historic ejection from train to be remembered

16 May 2018 - 16:12 By Suthentira Govender
A moustached young Mohandas Gandhi.
A moustached young Mohandas Gandhi.

Hundreds of metres of khadi - the hand-woven fabric synonymous with Mahatma Gandhi - will adorn the compartments and engine of a replica train in the commemoration of the peace icon’s expulsion from a "whites only" compartment in Pietermaritzburg 125 years ago.

Indian high commissioner Ruchira Kamboj announced in Durban on Wednesday that the historic incident would be commemorated with an elaborate two-day celebration on June 6 and 7 - parts of which would be televised live in both countries by national broadcasters Doordarshan and the SABC.

Kamboj said that khadi‚ which became Gandhi’s symbol of resistance against colonial rule and a fashion symbol in India‚ would be imported from India for event.

“125 years ago Mahatma Gandhi‚ who was as much South African as he was Indian, was removed from a first-class rail compartment and from there began a new journey that was to transform India and indeed the entire world."

Kamboj praised Ghandi's influence on Nelson Mandela, Dr Martin Luther King Jr "and so many others". 

Kamboj said the event - the vision of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi - would bind South Africa and India‚ which both share “an incredible legacy”.

She said the 125th commemoration was a precursor to India marking Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary with year-long celebrations‚ starting on October 2.

“In the meantime all eyes are turned to South Africa‚ because this is the precursor to the 150th celebration‚” she added.

India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj will kick off the celebrations on June 6 with a dinner and address of about 500 guests. The next day about 300 dignitaries‚ including Indian and South African politicians‚ are expected to travel on a train‚ similar to the one Gandhi was thrown off‚ from Pentrich Station to Pietermaritzburg station.

“Once the train arrives in Pietermaritzburg there is going to be an enactment of that famous incident.”

A two-sided bust of Gandhi will also be unveiled on the station platform.

“One side will be Mahatma Gandhi the lawyer in western attire as he came to South Africa.The other side will be Mahatma Gandhi in his Indian dress as he left South Africa after 21 years returning to transform India‚” Kamboj revealed.

An interactive digital museum - sponsored by the Indian government - will also be launched at the station on the day.