Durban has for many years been a city that observes the commemoration of Mahatma Gandhi‘s historic ‘Salt March’ protest against British occupation in India by holding annual marches of its own. Citizens can participate in a celebration of Gandhi’s legacy and of victory against British imperialism. Gandhi’s original protest occurred in India between the 12th of March and the 6th of April 1930 when he and 79 others walked 384km in protest of the British salt tax. The protest focused on salt as it was a daily necessity for people’s lives and would garner broad support. While this was initially dismissed as laughable, the massive unrest it inspired soon made Gandhi – and the issue of British occupation – impossible to ignore. Gandhi and the others who joined the protest travelled from the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad to Dandi, a seaside village. They engaged in making their own salt by evaporating salt water. This was a way to symbolically refuse the imperial ownership of the salt trade and, by extension, promote Indian sovereignty and self-rule.
Gandhi also lived in South Africa for 21 years during which time he developed his political outlook and peaceful protest philosophy of Satyagraha, which loosely translates to ‘insistence on the truth’. This has become a lasting symbol of leadership, resistance, and liberation. In 2004, to celebrate this legacy, his granddaughter, Ela Gandhi, established the annual ‘Gandhi-Luthuli Salt March’ in which crowds of people walk from Phoenix, where he lived, to Durban. The march also celebrates another iconic South African liberation icon, iNkosi Albert Luthuli who was an advocate of education, non-violence, and anti-apartheid activism. Durban’s Salt March is thus a celebration and commemoration of the legacies of struggle against oppression that embodied peace and justice as their core values.
In 2012 the eThekwini Municipality launched the annual Gandhi-Luthuli Salt March at the Durban Botanical Gardens, signalling the city’s own relationship with, and affirmation, of these legacies of resistance as an integral part of Durban’s historical heritage. At the event, Loganathan ‘Logie’ Naidoo, a local politician and Municipal Speaker said:
As a City we are proud of the fact that Gandhi spent 21 years in Durban where he conceptualised his philosophy of Satyagraha. Great political leaders and founding fathers of the African National Congress like John Langalibalele Dube were neighbours of Gandhi”
But beyond a commemorative event, Ela Gandhi, the Gandhi Development Trust, and its members, use the platform of the Gandhi-Luthuli Salt March in Durban to advocate for the continuation of these philosophies of struggle and resistance against new forms of suffering and oppression in the present. In April 2008, Ela Gandhi read a pledge prepared by Vasu Gounden, the Founder and Director of ACCORD (The African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes), who is also a Trustee of the Gandhi Development trust:
War and violence continue to destroy the lives of millions of people in the world and relegate billions of others to a life of poverty. Greed and exploitation is destroying the environment and our planets precious resources […] We therefore pledge to continue this Mahatma Gandhi Salt March until we have achieved a world free from war and violence, greed and exploitation.
The event also celebrates other notable figures and moments in history, such as the Potato Protest, the formation of the ANC Women’s League, Kasturba Gandhi, Nokuthula Luthuli, and more. The Gandhi-Luthuli Salt March, the city of Durban, its citizens, the delegates, politicians, and other figures who attend the annual event, keep the spirit of resistance, liberation and Satyagraha alive by continuing these philosophies of struggle against new oppressions in the present.