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Gandhi's farm in South Africa faces uncertain future

August 25, 2010 08:19 IST

The historic Tolstoy Farm established by Mahatma Gandhi 100 years ago in Johannesburg, faces an uncertain future following a series of thefts at the plot and an abandoned project to turn the site into a museum and skills training centre.

The vandals have removed even the cement that Mohan Hira, of the Gandhi Remembrance Committee paid for himself in an effort to at least cordon off the area with bricks supplied by leading South African brick manufacturer Corobrick, which owns the surrounding property.

Hira, who has undertaken a number of projects over the years to raise awareness of the derelict farm situated near Lenasia, where thousands of South African Indians were forcibly relocated during the apartheid era. But despite the presence of thousands of Indians in the region, Tolstoy farm fell into disuse after the last caretaker resident, musician Jeram Bhana and his wife moved off the property in 1970 amid security concerns.

"I remember the tranquillity' how the place was full of apricot-laden trees in summer and there were a few locals surrounding the farm as well," Bhana recollected as he lamented the decline of the historic site. Tolstoy Farm was established on land donated to Gandhi by his close friend and architect Herman Kallenbach. Its served as a self-sufficient refuge for men, women and children as Gandhi led the protests against discriminatory laws at the time.

Today, there is only bare land surrounding the foundation of an original home on the site. The remaining buildings had reached such a state by 1980 that the structure had to be demolished. Gandhi's great-granddaughter Kirti Menon is currently the chairperson of the Gandhi Centenary Committee which negotiated with the Johannesburg City Council and neighbouring business to fund a developmental project at Tolstoy farm.

Although funds were allocated by the authorities to build a museum and training centre to empower local women with various skills, the funds were diverted to establish and maintain a Gandhian exhibition at Constitution Hill in the city, built on the Old Fort prison where Gandhi was once imprisoned as well.

Independently of the Committee, Hira, an ardent believer in Gandhi's philosophies, extended his decades of humanitarian work to Tolstoy farm, undertaking walks and fundraisers in conjunction with Maheshbhai Kothari of Gujarat. But even their efforts appear to have been in vain.    

Corobrick said they were very supportive of plans to
preserve the Gandhian site. "We donated the bricks to keep vandals out because it would be an honour to be part of preserving Gandhi's heritage, but we really don't know what we can do any more," said Corobrick marketing manager Pieter Kidger.

Now the Indian mission in South Africa will also be part of discussions with the Gandhi Centenary Committee, the Mahatma Gandhi Remembrance Committee, and the Department of Arts and Culture in the City of Johannesburg soon to discuss the future of Tolstoy Farm.

Fakir Hassen in Johannesburg
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