The world over, statues and monuments pay tribute to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, better known to most as Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma, Sanskrit for ‘Great Soul’ and akin to the Christian term ‘saint’, was the name given to Gandhi for his involvement in civil rights, and the road of nonviolent civil disobedience that Gandhi and his supporters chose to travel. One of the most recognisable faces and names of all times it is understandable that people want to acknowledge Gandhi and his legacy of peaceful opposition, but the Gandhi Memorial Park in Durban’s CBD has special significance. Gandhi spent just over 20 years in South Africa, and was instrumental in the formation of the Natal Indian Congress (NIC), the first political organisation aimed at protecting the rights of Indians in South Africa. It was also during his time here that he formalised the principle of satyagraha, for which he is so famous. Loosely translated as ‘insistence on truth’, Gandhi described this political tactic as “a weapon of the strong; it admits of no violence under any circumstance whatsoever; and it ever insists upon truth”.
The Gandhi Memorial and its adjacent park, located at 95 Dr Goonam Street, are built on land previously owned by Gandhi and placed in the trust of the NIC with the express intent of the property being used to advance the cause of the Congress and the people it represented. While the land was used over the years for various political meetings, obstacles put in place by the governments of the time prevented the potential of the land from being fully realised, and ultimately the site was turned into a parking lot. Decades later, and with the help of Ruben Reddy Architects, and a partnership between the Indian and South African governments, the property has finally come into its own, offering a bit of calm respite in the centre of Durban’s busy CBD. Accessible to anyone who wants to make use of its services, the building which forms part of the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Trust, offers a space for educational and social action programmes, aimed at offering support to those in need.
We may be more than 100 years on, but it’s wonderful to finally see Gandhi’s vision realised – the influence of this great man living on decades after his death.