Gandhi statue vandalised in South Africa

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A statue of Mahatma Gandhi is seen after it was vandalized with white paint at Gandhi Square in Johannesburg April 13, 2015. — Reuters
A statue of Mahatma Gandhi is seen after it was vandalized with white paint at Gandhi Square in Johannesburg April 13, 2015. — Reuters

NEW DELHI: A carefully cultivated image of Mahatma Gandhi as a messiah of the underdog lost some of its sheen in South Africa when men wearing African National Congress outfit vandalised his statue and called him a racist, Press Trust of India said on Monday.

It said the statue in Johannesburg was defaced by a group of people who threw buckets of white paint on it amid racist taunts. The incident occurred on Sunday when the group came in a car at about noon and threw buckets of white paint on the statue and surrounding plaques detailing Gandhi’s history in South Africa, security guard Ntandzo Khwepe said.

They were bearing placards reading: ‘Racist Gandhi must fall’.

The statue in the centre of the city is believed to be the only one in the world showing Gandhi as a young lawyer in his court robes, PTI said.

The statue is on a public transport hub square, which was renamed Gandhi Square because the offices in which he practised law, during his stay in the city, is on the periphery of the square.

“They said we should not stop them because Gandhi was a racist man,” Khwepe said, adding that the group was wearing African National Congress (ANC) regalia.

Khwepe said one man was nabbed as the group tried to flee, but he remained nonchalant about it, claiming that his political bosses would soon get him freed.

Police spokesman Kay Makhubela said he would be charged with malicious damage to property. The incident occurred on a day Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled a Gandhi statue in Germany.

ANC spokesman Keith Khoza condemned the incident and denied the ruling party’s involvement, saying that they could have been posing as ANC members to discredit the party. The ANC has been prominent in ensuring the survival of Gandhi’s heritage in South Africa.

Gandhi arrived in South Africa in 1893. He moved to Johannesburg in 1903 and stayed there till 1914. Gandhi spent the early stage of his stay in Johannesburg with establishing his legal firm. From 1906, Gandhi became actively involved in politics; this helped formulate his ideas on passive resistance.

Historians and authors have brought out that Gandhi’s South Africa sojourn was controversial with revelations of his anti-black African politics.

In her introduction to Dalit icon B.R. Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste, a critique of Hindu society, writer Arundhati Roy cited various examples of Gandhi’s purportedly racist views concerning black Africans.

One example she cited in the book was of Gandhi‘s successful campaign to get the white regime to open a third entrance to the Durban post office. This would allow Indians not to have to share an entrance with black Africans.

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2015

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