The peaceful ambience and the simplicity of the architecture echoed the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi. After all, this was the modest house in which he lived with wife Kasturba in 1904 in the Phoenix settlement of Inanda in South Africa.

Located far from the touristy hubs of Durban, ‘Sarvodaya’ is today a museum that showcases the important role Gandhiji played in promoting justice, peace and equality.

Arriving in South Africa in 1893 as a 24-year-old barrister, he went on to lead the Indian freedom struggle on the unprecedented path of ahimsa or non-violence, capturing the imagination of the world, and revered for posterity as the Father of the Nation.

“I have not the shadow of a doubt that any man or woman can achieve what I have if he or she would make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith.” These words, inscribed on a wall, greeted us at the entrance.

Beside the pathway is a bust of the iconic leader that was unveiled in 2004 during the centenary celebrations of Phoenix Settlement by the then Vice-President of India, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.

Inside, a large image of Gandhiji is projected on a screen, surrounded by info-panels on freedom struggles across the world — all inspired by the Mahatma’s philosophy of Satyagraha, or non-violent resistance.

‘Sarvodaya’ was originally a dwelling made of corrugated iron sheets. It was razed to the ground during the 1985 apartheid-related violence. Subsequently, it was restored with the help of old photographs and converted into a museum tracing Gandhiji’s life and work in that country.

The South Africa period of Gandhiji’s life is regarded as a sort of preparation for the role he was destined to later play in history.

During the Bambatha Rebellion in 1906, when the Zulus rose in revolt against British rule and taxation, Gandhiji began looking at British colonialism with new eyes.

The racial discrimination he faced brought about a deep spiritual awakening in him.

The newspaper he founded in 1903 called Opinion (originally known as Indian Opinion), which was printed at the International Printing Press, continued to be published until 1961.

The Phoenix settlement was intended to put into practice the values he stood by during his lifetime — self-help, dignity of labour and simplicity.

Spread across 100 acres on a hilly region called Apex area, the settlement today attracts nearly a thousand visitors, half of them foreign tourists, each month. There is also a school, free clinic, creche and sewing classes for the communities residing there.

The Phoenix settlement is now part of a heritage tourism circuit established by the provincial KwaZulu-Natal government.The ‘Inanda Route’ is open to tourists from Monday to Saturday.

(This article was published on March 28, 2013)
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