A group of Indian-origin South African nationals who attended the Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi today were moved after seeing the Railway’s tableau themed on the transformation of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi to Mahatma.
Yashika Singh, who hails from KwaZulu-Natal Province, said the Pietermaritzburg train incident depicted in the tableau ”Mohan to Mahatma” touched “many emotional chords among us”.
In the tableau, a steam-engine train was depicted with the first carriage signifying the 1893 incident of Pietermaritzburg, when Mahatma Gandhi, a young barrister at the time, was thrown off a carriage after facing racism.
“I am a fourth-generation South African of Indian-origin, and I love my country, but we feel a sense of deep connection with India too. And, Gandhi and Mandela provide strong links. So, this tableau really moved us,” she told news agency PTI.
Yashika Singh, who lives in Estcourt and works in the media sector, said, a group of Indian-origin journalists have come from different parts of South Africa to cover President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State visit.
Asked if they were travelling with the president, Johannesburg-based Fakir Hassen said, “No, this has been done separately”.
Durban-based Salma Patel, another South African of Indian-origin who works for a radio channel, echoed Yashika’s sentiments.
“South Africa is our home. But, we feel a connection with India. And, we are very delighted to participate in the Republic Day of India,” she said.
On the top of the engine, a bust of Mahatma Gandhi has been installed, which is similar to the bust installed in June last year at the Pietermaritzburg station, according to information shared by the Defence Ministry on tableaux.
The second coach depicts Gandhi travelling in third-class compartment in Indian railways after return from South Africa.
Yashika recalled that last year marked 125 years of the Pietermaritzburg station incident and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had travelled to South Africa.
“The incident was retraced, and it had really left us emotionally very moved,” she said.
Asked, which part of India her ancestors had hailed from, she conjectures, “It is probably Bihar, as my mother says, the nature of food that we eat back home is similar to what people eat in Bihar but we do not know it as of now.”
Gandhi”s 150th birth anniversary was the overall theme of the Republic Day parade this year.
South African President Ramaphosa was the chief guest at the 90-minute celebrations marking the 70th Republic Day of India.