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 

Ela Gandhi on Gandhi, the Mideast, and South Africa

ela gandhi remembers apartheid My sister Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, was born in 1940 in the Phoenix Settlement in the Inanda district of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. An anti-apartheid activist from an early age, Ela was banned from political activism in 1973 and placed under house arrest for a total of nine years. After her imposed sanction, Ela became a member of the Transitional Executive Council and gained a seat as a member of the ANC in Parliament from 1994 to 2003, representing Phoenix which is in the Inanda district.

Since leaving parliament, Ela Gandhi has worked tirelessly to fight all forms of violence. She founded the Gandhi Development Trust which promotes non-violence, and was a founder member and chair of the Mahatma Gandhi Salt March Committee. In 2002, she received the Community of Christ International Peace Award and in 2007, in recognition of her work to promote Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy in South Africa, she was awarded the prestigious Padma Bushan Award by the Indian Government.


Ela Gandhi Interviewed by Nicolas Rossier at HuffPost

I met Ela Gandhi recently at her home situated in the middle-class suburb of Glenwood in Durban. We talked about her time as an activist during apartheid, the Middle East conflict and politics in South Africa today.

Ela Gandhi, what was life like under apartheid?

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