‘Long in the making’: R4 million Gandhi museum for durban

2012-04-19 00:00

THE role that Mahatma Gandhi played in the global understanding of non-violence and reconciliation will soon have a strong focus in Durban where a R4 million museum and memorial to the iconic Indian leader is to be built.

The construction of the museum — which will feature historic artefacts and memorabilia representing the teaching and philosophy of Gandhi in India and his early years in KwaZulu-Natal and particularly Durban — is scheduled to go ahead within the next few months. Completion is set for October.

This week the project was given its official launch at the office of the Consul-General of India in Durban where it was announced that the initial funding of R2,5 million would be shared by the Department of Culture in India and the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government.

Prince Edward Street in central Durban — a property bought by Gandhi in 1897 — is the site chosen for the museum because of its associations with the province’s powerful political legacy.

It was here on this narrow strip of land, currently used as a makeshift carpark, that the Natal Indian Congress, the brainchild of Gandhi, was launched, kick-starting one of the most committed and fearless political organisations in the country’s pre-1994 history.

Little is left of the original building, but there are plans to incorporate whatever can be retrieved into the new complex.

The components to be included in the project are:

• The memorial;

• A comprehensive and holistic HIV and Aids care centre;

• Promotion of human rights;

• Promotion of adult literacy;

• Government assistance programmes, and tourism.

Outlining the venture, Dr Khorshed Ginwala Rustomjee, chairperson of the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Trust (MGMT), said that the memorial had “been too long” in the making.

Rustomjee said: “It was right here in Durban that Gandhi developed his philosophy of non-violence, peace and development. A memorial to Gandhi in Durban should have been thought of many years ago, but for certain reasons, many of them political, his life was not celebrated as it should have been. Now we have a chance to make amends.”

Among the distinguished guests was Chagan Thakor Bhoola, a member of the MGMT, who said that the launch was “a special day in South African and Indian history”.

“In 1948 after his assassination I was tasked with bringing Gandhi’s ashes back to Durban where they were scattered in the sea off Blue Lagoon. So you see this occasion, 64 years later, is very significant.”

The museum and memorial, designed by Ruben Reddy architects, will be based on a similar complex in New Delhi devoted to the life of Gandhi.

The core idea is to incorporate easily accessible information in a free-flowing environment designed for a wide audience but with the emphasis on young students.

Architect Carl Wright said the vision was to establish a religious and sacred precinct in the heart of Durban that would include the new Mahatma Gandhi Museum as the well as the Dennis Hurley community centre and the Emanuel Cathedral.

The trust is negotiating with the etTekwini Municipality to erect a memorial to Gandhi in the grounds of the new museum complex to “recognise his presence and historical contribution to the city”.

Anil K. Sharan, Consul-General for India in Durban, said the inititiative was one of the highlights of his tenure.

“I will be leaving at weekend for a new posting in the Ivory Coast. I am so proud to have ended my stay on this wonderful note.”

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