South Africa and India to commemorate Gandhi train incident
The Minister of External Affairs of India, her Excellency, minister Sushma Swaraj, will visit Durban, KwaZulu-Natal Province, to attend the commemoration of an event which occurred 125 years ago, on June 7, 1893, when a young Mahatma Gandhi was forcibly removed from the first class – whites-only carriage of a train in Pietermaritzburg. The South African Government will be represented at this event by the premier of KwaZulu-Natal Province, Willies Mchunu, and the deputy minister of international relations and cooperation, Luwellyn Landers.
South Africa and India enjoy a strategic partnership and their bilateral relations are anchored by a deep and shared history of friendship and solidarity. This year witnesses the twenty-fifth anniversary of the establishment of formal diplomatic relations. India is currently South Africa’s second largest trading partner in Asia and ranks amongst South Africa’s top ten trade partners. In 2017 bilateral trade reached Rand 107 billion (South African currency).
The ties between both countries are cemented on the foundation laid by two icons – Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. South Africa was central to forging Gandhi’s identity as a political activist and his time in the country was an important prelude in developing his thinking prior to his return to India. President Mandela later acknowledged that that the values of tolerance, mutual respect and unity for which Gandhi stood and acted had a profound impact on South Africa’s own liberation movement and on his own thinking.
Mohandas Gandhi arrived in South Africa as a young lawyer in 1893 and shortly after his arrival he booked a first class ticket on the train to Pretoria, where he was to undertake business on behalf of the legal firm where he was employed. On a cold June day he was forcibly removed by the rail authorities at Pietermaritzburg from the first class compartment and thrown off the train following a complaint from one of the passengers. He subsequently spent the night in the station’s waiting room.
This event initiated his contemplations of racial discrimination and represented the beginning of his philosophy of Satyagraha (truth-force) and Ahimsa (pressure for social and political reform through passive resistance). This philosophy became one of the greatest political tools of the twentieth century, influencing the civil rights movement in the United States and the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa.
Both Mandela and Gandhi were visionary leaders who were ahead of their times. Modern day India, with its extra-ordinary economic growth and development, and South Africa, have carved a niche as influential global players, as witnessed by its roles in BRICS, IORA, IBSA and the G20, as well as within the United Nations system.
The commemoration of the train incident in Pietermaritzburg allows the two countries to look back and re-affirm the need to eradicate racism, the scourge of which continues in societies 125 years later.