Call to rename Pietermaritzburg Station after Gandhi

2013-06-05 00:00

THERE is a call to rename the Pietermaritzburg Station Gandhi Station or the Mahatma Gandhi Station.

The call has come from long-standing justice and peace activist Paddy Kearney and is being made on the 120th anniversary of the historic incident when Gandhi was thrown off a train at the local station.

The Pietermaritzburg Gandhi Memorial Committee (PGMC) will also be discussing the possibility of getting the station declared a world heritage site.

On Friday, June 7, 1893, Gandhi was kicked off a train for refusing to leave a “whites only” first-class compartment and go to the third-class carriage.

Gandhi said in his autobiography that it was while sitting shivering in the waiting room at the station that cold winter night that he contemplated what to do — go back to India or stay and fight injustice.

He stayed for 21 years in South Africa, developing his philosophy of non-violence or satya­graha, and went on to become a leader in India’s struggle for independence.

Kearney is Archbishop Denis Hurley’s biographer and is a trustee on the Gandhi Development Trust (GDT). He said he was making the call in his personal capacity and was surprised that there had been no earlier motivation for a name change. He said the Maritzburg Station and the Nelson Mandela capture site were the most important historical sites in the KZN Midlands. He added that what happened at the station changed history and gave the world the very important philosophy of non-violence.

PGMC deputy chairperson David Gengan said they will be discussing Kearney’s call.

“Perhaps the renaming issue will be more appropriate during that initiative [to get the station declared a world heritage site]. But we will certainly start the conversation with key role players,” Gengan said.

Pietermaritzburg will be commemorating the 120th anniversary of Gandhi being thrown off the train at a function on the platform of the railway station on Friday, starting at 10 am. The function has been organised by the Gandhi Committee and the public is invited to attend. The guest speaker will be the Consul-General of India, Vinodkumar Sharma. Included in the programme will be the story of how Gandhi got to South Africa, what led to his being thrown off the train and the impact the incident had on his life and on history.

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