Dundee’s Lost Tales – Walking in Gandhi’ footsteps

Most Lost Tales feature obscure anecdotes and historical events.

This one is about one of the 20th century’s  most revered men: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The fact that the Great Mahatma visited Dundee in 1913, spent a night with the Soni family on McKenzie Street and even appeared in court here, has become rather ‘lost’.

So much so that when researchers were in Dundee, when a movie was to be made about Gandhi’s role in South Africa  (1893 to 1914), no records could be found of his court appearance.

In his autobiography, Gandhi says he appeared in the Dundee Court on November 11, 1913. This was because of the ‘illegal march’ he organised of Indians from Natal into the Transvaal to protest against a three pound tax inposed on all Indian settlers.

He was sentenced to nine months hard labour. The Soni family of Dundee remember their father and uncle them of Gandhi’s brief sojourn to Dundee.

He arrived here on the train via Glencoe. His trip was probably  twofold: to mobilise Indian mine workers in Northern Natal for the protest march and to canvas support for his weekly Durban-based newspaper, Indian Opinion, which published articles in Hindi, Tamil, Gujerati and English.

Brick for a pillow

So how did he end up at the Soni’s home which was then on McKenzie Street? “Gandhi was from the seaport city of Porbander, which was in the same area of Gujerat state from where we hail,” said Nanjee Soni.

He remembers that Gandhi refused a bed in their house, instead choosing a brick for a pillow. The following day, not wanting to disturb the household, Gandhi got up early and started walking to Glencoe to catch his next train. However, Mr Soni’s father picked him up in his horse and cart and dropped the great man off at the station.

“Gandhi was a man who had no need or desire for possessions – such was his greatness.” The Sonis feel proud that Gandhi stayed over at their home.

Sadly the old house is no longer. There is not even a plaque suggesting that Gandhi stayed over in Dundee. There is one in Glencoe but apparently he was only there because the town was (and still is) on the main railway line.

An impressive bust of Gandhi was unveiled at Talana Museum. Gandhi’s role in Northern Natal was significant: not only for the march, in which over 2000, mainly Indians walked over into Transvaal at Volksrust but also for his role in organising the Indian stretcher bearers during the Anglo Boer War and 1906 Bambata rebellion.

Although the facts are rather misty, it is thought that Gandhi returned to Dundee after a warrant for his arrest was issued after the march.

So this could be enough reason to embark on a Gandhi Route tourist attraction for Northern KZN.

Northern Natal Courier

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