Johannesburg: The revival of Tolstoy Farm, the commune started by Mahatma Gandhi during his tenure in Johannesburg a century ago, received a further boost with contributions from the Indian government on his 152nd birthday on Saturday. High Commissioner for India Jaideep Sarkar and Consul General Anju Ranjan were the chief guests at an event at the once-thriving self-sufficient establishment, which had been vandalised over several decades, with only the foundation of Gandhi’s original house remaining.
Efforts by the Mahatma Gandhi Remembrance organisation (MGRO), started by Gandhian follower Mohan Hira, have led to gradual steps to revive the venue as a tourist attraction, with funding from mainly the Indian government and the expatriate Indian community. The greening of the area for the past few years continued on Saturday with almond, pecan nut and olive trees being planted in the first phase of restoring the orchard that once supplied the people on Tolstoy Farm and neighbouring areas.
The Indian missions also donated a generator to provide power, while the India Club is providing monthly contributions towards security and maintenance. Pledging continued support from the Indian government, Sarkar called for Tolstoy Farm to be turned into a major tourist attraction that would attract visitors from all over the world.
It was here at Tolstoy Farm that some of the methods and techniques used so successfully in our freedom struggle were conceived, developed and refined. It was also the place where some of the values that would later inspire, motivate and inform independent India was developed by Gandhiji, Sarkar said. So, Tolstoy Farm can be called one of the cradles of India’s freedom struggle and nation-building. We must make this a place of pilgrimage. We should not only come here once a year, Sarkar added.
Ranjan commended MGRO for having put in place a master plan to develop a replica of Gandhi’s original house, museum and library on Tolstoy Farm. She also made a plea to the South African Indian community to support these efforts. Let us recreate Tolstoy Farm to the full glory that Bapu wanted to see. That will be a real tribute to Bapu, Ranjan said.
Ranjan announced a week-long programme put together by the High Commission and Consulates in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town to celebrate India’s 75th anniversary with a Gandhi Trail tour by 75 people that will start at Tolstoy Farm on Sunday and end at the Phoenix Settlement that Gandhi started near Durban. The tour will also take in important Gandhian sites in a number of towns and cities along the route.
Among the historic sites is the train station at Pietermaritzburg where young lawyer Gandhi was thrown off a train, which started his path of fighting discrimination and oppression through peaceful resistance in both South Africa and India. The prison where Gandhi’s wife Kasturba was held and the court in Dundee where Gandhi was sentenced to nine months in prison with hard labour are among the other sites to be visited.
After returning to Johannesburg, the Consulate will host a musical evening on Wednesday with Gandhiji’s favourite bhajans rendered by singers from the Indian diaspora. The programme will conclude on Thursday with a special screening of the film The Making of the Mahatma’ by Shyam Benegal. The movie is based on a book by renowned South African activist, the late Professor Fatima Meer.
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