Two larger-than-life busts of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela have been unveiled at Tolstoy Farm, the self-sufficient commune that he started during his tenure as a lawyer in Johannesburg.
Tolstoy Farm, named after the great Russian writer whom Gandhi much admired, was a community started by Gandhi in Transvaal, South Africa, in 1910. It became the headquarters of the Satyagraha campaign which Gandhi led at that time.
High Commissioner for India Jaideep Sarkar lauded the Mahatma Gandhi Remembrance Organisation (MGRO), led by veteran South African community activist and Gandhian follower Mohan Hira, for having initiated the revival of the once-thriving Tolstoy Farm which had been vandalised and completely destroyed over several decades.
Hira started revamping the venue gradually at his own expense about two decades ago, planting trees and building walls, with a few contributions from the local Indian community.
Sarkar pledged the support of his office and that of Consul General in Johannesburg Anju Ranjan to develop the venue further.
We have preserved this site for today but not for tomorrow, and I appeal to you to preserve this for our future generations, Sarkar said, highlighting its potential of becoming a major tourist attraction in Johannesburg.
"Johannesburg is on the tourist map, and all Indians come through this city. It's just a short drive from the city, so I'm sure that if we can build this into a tourist site, it can become something that will attract members of the Indian diaspora who come to South Africa, Sarkar added.
It was here at Tolstoy Farm that Gandhi tried to understand how to bring diverse people together on a common platform. He never made a distinction between his personal philosophy and his political philosophy they merged into one, Sarkar said.
The diplomat also reflected on how Gandhi had made an impact on Mandela, who became the country's first democratically-elected Black majority President after spending 27 years in prison as a political prisoner of the white minority government.
Madiba (clan name by which Mandela is affectionately known) has in his books and in his speeches recognised the important role that Gandhi's ideas played in the development of his own political philosophies and indeed in the freedom struggle of South Africa,' Sarkar said.
Ranjan, who took up her post just two weeks earlier, said she was disappointed when she arrived at Tolstoy Farm because she had envisioned a thriving farm with fruit orchards and fields of corn and wheat growing, as she had read in books about the area during Gandhi's time.
But she too gave assurances of assisting in restoring the area to its previous glory.
A group of local Gujarati octogenarians who had once been members of a long-defunct cultural organisation promised to contribute R350,001 to the restoration project.
MGRO also made awards to 30 stalwarts of the local Indian community for their many years of service in the Gandhian tradition in diverse areas of community welfare and philanthropic projects.
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