Death of an icon of PMB

2013-04-08 00:00

ONE of Pietermaritzburg’s iconic figures, Dasarath Bundhoo, died at the weekend aged 92. He was cremated at the Mountain Rise Cemetery after a packed funeral service at the Truro Hall in Northdale yesterday.

Bundhoo touched every aspect of Pietermaritzburg’s life, from trade unionism to religion and community work. He was a doyen of the city’s historic leather industry, attending national and international leather and trade union conferences.

With his wife, Durga, he never forgot the poor. They played a prominent role in child welfare and worked tirelessly to raise funds to build and run the H.S. Ebrahim School for the Mentally Challenged.

Bundhoo’s single-handed passion and drive over the years was to raise the profile of Mahatma Gandhi’s links to Pietermaritzburg.This brought him and the city world renown.

He wrote a book Whisperings of a Gandhi Follower, which chronicled Gandhi’s influence on him. The Witness, in a review of the book, described him as “the city’s quiet revolutionary”.

In 1961 Bundhoo was instrumental in enabling the All-in Africa Conference to take place at the Plessislaer Arya Samaj Hall. The security police had bugged the hall in the hope of catching Nelson Mandela who was in hiding then, but he was able to slip into the Samaj hall and address the conference.

In 1997 Mandela thanked Bundhoo personally when he was offered the Freedom of Pietermaritzburg. At the same ceremony, Bundhoo was awarded civic honours for his lifelong involvement in public affairs.

At the height of the violence in the 1980s that saw open warfare between Inkatha Freedom Party and ANC supporters, Bundhoo helped broker peace in a section of Ashdown where he raised money and worked with the community to build a church there.

He was a long-standing member of the Natal Indian Congress and played a leading role in the local branch of the United Democratic Front.

Bundhoo was instrumental in the formation of the Gandhi Memorial Committee that saw the statue of Gandhi erected in the city centre and a plaque being placed at the station. This was to commemorate the Mahatma being thrown from a train for daring as a black person to travel on a first-class coach.

The city’s historic links with Gandhi have brought a regular stream of visitors and dignitaries from India and the rest of the world.

Bundhoo’s status as an international figure and dedicated disciple of Gandhi was demonstrated when former Indian President Pratibha Patil, while on a visit to South Africa and the Pietermaritzburg station in 2011, asked specifically to see Bundhoo and on meeting him bent down to touch his feet as a sign of respect.

Bundhoo was also a Hindu reformist and worked at promoting the progressive Arya Samaj movement that emphasised education, the equality of women and service to the community. He was also a scholar of the Hindi language, a poet and a playwright.

uMgungundlovu Mayor Yusuf Bhamjee has pointed out that April was Bundhoo’s month. He was born on April 8, 1921, died on April 6, 2013 and was buried on April 7. He received his civic honours on April 25, 1997, and he was married on April 27, 1947.

Bundhoo leaves his wife and several nieces and nephews.

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