Gandhi’s Grandaughter: An Interview With Ela Gandhi

Gandhi's Grandaughter Ela in South AfricaIn 1893, M.K. “Mahatma” Gandhi came to South Africa as a young lawyer seeking to start his law career. However, after he experienced first hand a traumatic incident of racial discrimination in Pietermaritzburg S.A., he dedicated himself to the pursuit of social justice and equal rights. During the 21 years he lived in South Africa, he developed and implemented his seminal strategy of Satyagraha, which is chronicled in his book “Satyagraha in South Africa.” While in South Africa, he also founded Phoenix Settlement, a communal ashram that served as the location for much of his sociopolitical and spiritual work.* 

*Source: Varun Soni at

Mahatma Gandhi’s granddaughter, noted scholar Ela Gandhi, has spent her life as the custodian of his legacy in South Africa as well as the caretaker of Phoenix Settlement. She is also a prominent peace activist and served as a Member of Parliament in South Africa from 1994-2004. In 2007, she was conferred the Padma Bhushan award from the Government of India, which is India’s third highest civilian award. Huffpost’s Varun Soni recently had the opportunity to meet Ela Gandhi in Durban, South Africa and they discussed the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, the transition to democracy in South Africa, the evolution of the Indian community in South Africa and the politics of the African National Congress (ANC).

 From Huffpost 

When Mahatma Gandhi left South Africa for India in 1914, your father went with him. Why did your father return from India to South Africa to live at the Phoenix settlement?

 After my grandfather returned to India from South Africa, he was called back to South Africa for various reasons. So he asked my father and uncle to return to South Africa and carry on the work he left behind. They settled in Phoenix Settlement but it was difficult to live there because there were no services. So my uncle went back to India while my father continued on in South Africa. While in South Africa, my father ran the Indian Opinion, which is the newspaper that my grandfather started in 1903.

 In 1949, the Durban Riots between Zulus and Indians left 142 people dead and created a deep rift between the two communities. What was the impact of the riots on Phoenix Settlement and what are your memories of that time?

 My memory is that of a 9-year-old. We were in Durban when the riots began and panic spread quickly through the city. My dad was overseas at the time so my brother picked us up by car and rushed us home. On the way, children were throwing stones at our car. When we got back to Phoenix Settlement, people told us that this is God’s place and no one will touch it. So both Zulus and Indians protected Phoenix Settlement and nothing happened to the settlement during the riots.

 >> Continue reading at Huffington Post 


  1. Al mencionar Sudáfrica,pensamos de inmediato en un nombre Nelson Mandela, al mencionar la India pensamos en Gandi, Al mencionar Tibet pensamos en Su Santidad el Dalai Lama y al decir Martín Luther King,nos viene a la mente no Estados Unidos pero si la lucha de este llamado apóstol contra la descriminacion racial, los países donde nacieron y estuvieron todos ellos fueron colonias de otros países, si tuviéramos que buscar un sinónimo de la palabra igualdad tendríamos que mencionarlos a todos ellos de manera individual o en conjunto, porque todos ellos son símbolos de igualdad y libertad, de igual manera si tuviéramos que definir el termino esclavitud o segregación podríamos decir negro e indio y podríamos incluir otros términos concernientes a el color de la piel o razas originarias de algún sector del mundo, por algún motivo hay personas que creen el la superioridad de un color o raza y por ello se creen dueños del resto de la humanidad, y la humanidad solo tiene un color o raza y es la humana, nunca nadien podrá valorar con exactitud la obra humanitaria de estos seres humanos excepcionales como su Santidad el Dalai Lama y su lucha por un Tibet libre, Martin Luther King considerado por muchos como un verdadero apóstol y al Sr. Nelson Mandela que es sin duda el padre de una nación, ya quedara de parte de las nuevas generaciones hacerse dignos herederos del legado de todos ellos, ellos significan paz e igualdad.

  2. Georgette Sweet says

    The Settlement, devoted to Gandhi’s principles of Satyagraha (passive resistance) has played an important spiritual and political role throughout its long history, promoting justice, peace and equality. Gandhi established the settlement as an communal experimental farm with the view of giving each family two acres of land which they could develop. He believed that communities like Phoenix which advocated communal living would form a sound bsis for the struggle against social injustice. His granddaughter Ela Gandhi points out that Gandhi used the Settlement “to train political activists called satyagrahis as well as house their families, while they were engaged in the campaigns against unjust laws”. Her sister Sita describes the Phoenix Settlement as a lively, bustling community, a veritable kutum. Market gardens were established, their diary supplied milk to all the homesteads on the settlement as well as the neighbourhood, and they produced their own butter and ghee for domestic use. Everbody on the settlement had to participate in communial activities, such as the daily prayers and singing of hymns which Gandhi himself had instituted.

  3. The Nationalists agreed to a negotiated settlement because things were building up against them. There were major boycotts and they were negotiating with Nelson Mandela at the same time. The economy was going down, we took over a state that was about to collapse and they saw that the writing was on the wall. The difference between other colonial powers and South Africa was the fact that South Africa was the home of the Afrikaner. If this was destroyed they had nowhere to go and so they had to find a way to negotiate and stay in the country. I don’t think that the apartheid government realised the massive support that was there for the ANC.