Gandhi Settlement in S Africa unaffected by neighbouring violence and looting

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Johannesburg, Jul 17 (PTI) The Phoenix Settlement started by Mahatma Gandhi at the turn of the last century during his tenure there as a young lawyer has been unaffected by the rampant violence and looting in the townships surrounding it, his granddaughter Ela Gandhi has said.

Her comment came after reports of tensions between the Indian community in the sprawling suburb of Phoenix and the adjacent Black townships of Zwelisha and Bhambayi following the deaths of 20 Black residents during the week of violence and looting that has plagued the province.

Protests that started after the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma on July 7 rapidly turned violent, with shopping centres, warehouses looted and set alight by huge mobs who outnumbered security forces.

Zuma was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment by the country’s apex court for contempt of court after he repeatedly refused to testify at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, where several witness have implicated him in corruption.

A level of calm has returned to the area after Police Minister Bheki Cele visited each area on Saturday and addressed the communities there.

“I would like to appeal to the community members to form a task team that will focus on communicating with us. Please select people you can trust to meet with us regularly and that will help unite the areas,” Cele said as he told the communities that a team of 10 detectives would be dedicated to investigating these murders.

Gandhi said that the reports about the racial tensions were being fuelled by a lot of fake news doing the round on social media.

“There are tensions, but not at the level that is being reported.

There has not been that degree of aggression that is being claimed. In this area people have been working together for decades – African, Indian, Coloured or white.

“There are also many examples of good community leaders in both communities working together in the interests of all citizens, which should be emulated by all,” Gandhi said, adding that an inter-faith peace prayer would be hosted on Sunday in Durban involving all communities.

Gandhi said that at the Phoenix Settlement there was no sign of the looting and arson that has bedevilled the province.

“We are working there daily in the limited way that we were forced to implement because of the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions since last year,” she said.

The Settlement is where Gandhi ran his first commune and started printing his newspaper ‘Indian Opinion’, which was continued by his son Manilal after Gandhi returned to India.

Manilal’s daughter Ela and other family members established the Gandhi Development Trust, which continues running the community upliftment and education programmes at the centre.

During communal riots in the area in 1985, Gandhi’s original house, named Sarvodya, was burnt down. It was rebuilt with support from the Indian government. PTI FH RUP RUP RUP

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