The International Day of Peace calls us to celebrate the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and people. Humankind has demanded and sought after this basic virtue since time immemorial. South Africa, the land that immediately brings alive the imagery of Big 7 safaris, glamping, bungee jumping, shark cage diving, exquisite wines, diverse food and warm people, has another aspect to it that is equally appealing – it’s rich and diverse cultural history. The nation witnessed the formation of two of the world greatest advocates of freedom – Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a young lawyer, arrived in Durban in 1893 and moved in with his family.
After the infamous train incident at Pietermaritzburg Railway Station where young Gandhi was off-
boarded for sitting in a ‘whites only’section, Gandhi stayed on in Inanda in the outskirts of Durban. Gandhi left the Rainbow Nation, but his doctrine on Satyagraha found its way back into the thoughts of Nelson Mandela who echoed the passive resistance concept as he led his country into freedom.
Mandela, born into a South African royal family, went on to become an influential political leader and
then also the president, and was at the forefront of the South African freedom struggle. From serving 27 years in prison to working as a philanthropist, his life was legendary to say the least. The ‘Gandhi of the African continent’ has received, and rightfully so, more than 250 honors including The Nobel Peace Prize and the Bharat Ratna.
From the rolling hills and scattered villages of Qunu in the Eastern Cape to reverent reflections in the
prison cells of Robben Island, to the Phoenix Settlement in Inanda – South Africa offers a chance to follow in the footsteps of these two iconic heroes. Walk with us around:
Pietermaritzburg Railway Station
7th June 1893, went down in history due to Mahatma Gandhi’s refusal to budge from a ‘whites only’ coach on a train to Pretoria. Gandhi was thrown off the train at Pietermaritzburg Railway Station for this act of defiance that set the stage for Civil Disobedience. The historic building stills stands, with a plaque commemorating the incident that proved to be a turning point in Gandhi’s fight against racial discrimination. Sushma Swaraj, External Affairs Minister for India, recently commemorated 125 years since the passage of this incident by embarking on a train journey from Pentrich to Pietermaritzburg.
Phoenix Settlement, Inanda
Situated 20 kilometers north of Durban, the Phoenix Settlement is a part of Kwa Zulu Natal’s Inanda Heritage Route. Gandhi resided here along with his family in a house named Sarvodaya, meaning ‘well-
being for all’. It is at Phoenix that Gandhi produced his weekly Indian Opinion newspaper from the International Printing Press – the building of which remains till date. The former home of Gandhi, burnt
down in the political upheaval of the mid-1980s, has been reconstructed as a free-for-all museum that
pays tribute to his achievements and to the principles of Satyagraha.
Nelson Mandela spent 18 immensely challenging years in prison on this little island situated off the coast
of Cape Town and yet emerged from it filled with forgiveness instead of hatred. Robben Island is now a
World Heritage site and museum. Although from the 17th to the 20th century the island was a place of imprisonment – today it is a beacon of hope and a place where visitors can gain some insight into the life
and times of Nelson Mandela and fellow freedom fighters. Trips to Robben Island begin from the Nelson
Mandela Gateway at the V&A Waterfront, where ferries transfer you to the former prison.
Through the years, the Constitution Hill functioned mainly as a prison. It was here that many passive
resistors and freedom fighters including the Father of our Nation – Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela were held; the site has two permanent exhibitions that revolve around the lives of both these revolutionaries. A walk through Number Four section of the prison, reading up on the horrific conditions
of the time and the difference in how prisoners of different races were treated, quickly hammers home
the need for radical reform and equality for which Mandela was fighting – and ultimately achieved. The
Constitution Hill in Johannesburg is now a fascinating museum and the home to South Africa’s
This site has enormous significance in the history of the freedom struggle because it was here that, after
17 months of evading the apartheid authorities, Nelson Mandela was arrested. On 5th August 1962, the
police flagged down a car driven by Nelson Mandela in a chauffeur’s uniform while he was returning from a secret meeting with the African National Congress president. This incident would go on to shape the future of an entire country. To mark the historic spot is a sculpture comprising of 50 steel rods, which align to create a magnificent portrait of Mandela.
Madiba once said:
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” This Independence Day, the Rainbow Nation beckons you to witness that journey of freedom!