Ela Gandhi

06 June 2010 - 01:49 By Tiara Walters

'I've been inspired by my grandfather's teachings all through my life'

I am ... a very proud South African.

Where and when were your born? In Inanda outside Durban on July 1 1940.

Where did you grow up? In the Phoenix settlement. My father, Manilal, was the editor of a Gujarati-English newspaper, the Indian Opinion, which was started by my grandfather. My mom, Sushila, took care of the paper's Gujarati section.

Where do you live now? In a 12th-floor flat in Glenwood. I live on the top of a hill and have a beautiful view of the entire city.

Who do you share your flat with? My two grandchildren, Nikhil, 10, and Mira, 6, and my daughter Ashish, who runs an NGO that provides small business training and helps communities to become self-sufficient.

How did you get into your career? I had been a social worker for many years when the apartheid government placed me under house arrest in 1973. Between 1994 and 2003 I served as an ANC member of parliament. Today I run a non-profit newspaper - Satyagraha ("In Pursuit of Truth"). I'm a trustee of the Gandhi Development Trust, the honorary president of the World Conference on Religions and Peace and the chancellor of the Durban University of Technology - although I'm actually officially retired. I don't work for money anymore. My pension is sufficient for my needs.

Why were you placed under house arrest? I was under house arrest for about eight and a half years. You know, they didn't give you a reason for these things but I assume it was because of my political activities.

How did the experience change you? It made me more determined to change a totally unjust system. I've been inspired by my grandfather's teachings from early childhood and all through my life.

What was your most memorable moment in Durban? When I was nine years old my father took me to Pietermaritzburg (Railway Station), where my grandfather was ejected from a first-class train compartment (in 1893), and explained to me what had happened. That was a great inspiration for me - that you don't accept injustices, that you confront them and do something about them. Mahatma chose to stay and fight.

How would Mahatma Gandhi have described himself: as an Indian or South African? People often ask why he confined himself to Indian issues while he was here. He always considered himself to be an Indian national first. He felt that he could only look at other issues once he had overcome the oppression to which his own people were subjected.

What do you think Mahatma would have made of the way the ANC is running South Africa? My grandfather was never one to criticise, only to look at how we could change - so he might have suggested that you need to pay more attention to livelihoods and agricultural development.

How do you get around? Living at the top of a hill I'm forced to drive a car, a Toyota, although I prefer walking.

What music are you listening to in your car? Traditional jazz, Freshlyground, as well as devotional and patriotic Indian music, such as songs by Lata Mangeshkar.

What's your favourite grub spot in Durban? Silverani's. The owner cooks all her own food. It's almost like Indian home cooking.

I collect ... stamps.

What books have influenced your life the most? The Story of My Experiments with Truth, my grandfather's autobiography.

What's the one thing a World Cup tourist must see in Durban? The Old Courthouse Museum, which is hosting a beautiful exhibition on the life of Kasturba Gandhi, Mahatma's wife.

What's your favourite memory of your grandfather? The chats we had sitting together at the Sevagram ashram outside Mumbai. This was 1946 and, as busy as he was on the eve of India's independence, he still found time to give us his attention. Nobody disturbed him when he was with us. Sevagram meant "land of service" and one day I asked him why they didn't call it the "land of pumpkins" because that's all we ate in the communal kitchen. He only ate raw food and we didn't always eat together so he was shocked to hear all we ate was pumpkin. That evening he went to the assembly and told them that, when he spoke of simplicity, he didn't mean they had to eat pumpkin every day. Simplicity also meant growing and eating other vegetables.

My little black book

The Phoenix Settlement, Inanda, Durban

The settlement was established by my grandfather in 1904 and I love going there to remember the old days.

The Durban Botanic Gardens 031 309 1170

I love these gardens and sauntering around them. There's also a little restaurant that serves the most delicious scones and coffee.

Heritage Country Market, Hillcrest 031 765 2500

This is a beautiful market, with a lovely rose bush that I'm particularly fond of. It's a wonderful place just to sit and contemplate. You can get almost anything here - from home-made bread to organic health foods.

Umgeni River Bird Park 031 579 4600

I like to take a stroll through the park and look at its delightful variety of birds - it really is a lovely thing to observe