A Great Soul
Situated opposite the old colonial buildings in Pietermaritzburg’s city centre, stands a statue of Gandhi. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi spent 20 years in South Africa during his apprenticeship to become a Mahatma or Great Soul, eleven of which were spent in KwaZulu Natal.
The statue is a touching, bronze sculpture, depicting Mahatma Gandhi in his prime - bare chested with a casual pair of wrap pants, the traditional dhoti, around him, and equally humble footwear. He holds a simple walking stick, while the other hand reaches out in peace, and his gaze is fixed determinedly ahead of him, representing Gandhi forever striding forward. The plaque on the side of the statue commemorates the centenary of the event of his enforced removal in 1893 from the train because he was a man of colour in first class, who politely refused to move to third class.
On the night of 7 June 1893, the young Indian lawyer, sent to South Africa from India on a temporary assignment on behalf of a local Indian trader, stepped into a first class train compartment and was asked to move, and go instead to the third class compartment, purely due to his darker skin colour. Gandhi, who had a first class ticket, politely refused and was then removed from the train at the Pietermaritzburg Railway Station. Through the winter night in the waiting room of the station, Gandhi made the momentous decision to stay on in South Africa and fight the racial discrimination against Indians there.
“My active non-violence resistance began from that date" – Mahatma Gandhi.
His active, yet peaceful, resistance to political injustices included the writing of letters of protest, the signing of mass petitions and the formation of the Natal Indian Congress. After Gandhi established the roots of Satyagraha ('passive resistance'), he left for India to pursue the path of freedom and remove India from grip of the British Empire.
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