SPEECH BY HER EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT OF INDIA SHRIMATI PRATIBHA DEVISINGH PATIL AT THE PHOENIX SETTLEMENT
Durban, South Africa , 6th May, 2012
I am honoured and deeply moved by this visit to Phoenix Settlement established by Mahatma Gandhi more than a century ago. I consider myself to be fortunate to be here. It was my long cherished desire to come to this revered site to pay my humble homage to Gandhiji.
Sarvodaya - the house in which the Mahatma lived, still seems to be pervaded with the compassion and serenity which characterized him. Mahatma Gandhi set up this community in 1904 to put into practice the values, which he followed and preached for the rest of his life - self-help, dignity of labour and simplicity. It was here that Mahatma Gandhi adopted Satyagraha as a vital tenet in his message of peace and non-violence. Gandhiji taught us to fear no one and constantly struggle against injustice and exploitation. It was in Phoenix Farm, on March 5, 1913 that Gandhiji wrote, "refuse to believe that you are weak, and you will be strong." It is this faith that Gandhiji had in the innate goodness and strength of every individual that motivated countless men and women to join him in the freedom struggle of India; in the fight against unjust laws in South Africa and it has continued to inspire humanity to work for the welfare of all. His message was that human beings become great, exactly in the degree in which they work for the welfare of their fellow human beings. Today, in our endeavour to remove poverty, hunger and disease from our countries and from the world, these words are a valuable guide.
Gandhiji's stay in South Africa is a strong cementing factor between our two countries. We share the legacy of the two great leaders - Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. Tomorrow, I will be visiting the Railway Station in Pietermaritzburg, a place where the political consciousness of a young Indian barrister was awakened after he faced racial discrimination and hardships on a cold and bitter winter night. It was this awakening that eventually led his countrymen in India towards a life of freedom and dignity, and also inspired similar struggles across the world including in South Africa. I visited Cell No. 4 in the Constitution Hill in Johannesburg where Gandhiji was imprisoned on four occasions. His bust is now installed there - a reminder of the sacrifices he made as he fought for human dignity. Yesterday, I was fortunate to be able to visit Robben Island, a testament to the endurance and determination of Nelson Mandela in his campaign against the most pernicious system of Apartheid. I was deeply moved by what I saw and what I heard about the many years spent there by Nelson Mandela and other brave heroes of South Africa.
I am also deeply privileged that, shortly after this event, I would be visiting the memorial to Mr. John Dube, the first President of the African National Congress. It is surely more than a simple coincidence that the crucible of Gandhi's political awakening is located close to the site of one of the ANC's founding leaders.
India and South Africa are united in our common struggle for justice and equality. India's opposition to colonial exploitation led us to vehemently oppose the abhorrent system of apartheid in the United Nations even before our Independence. We were among the first countries to impose sanctions in 1946 against the apartheid regime. India continued to support the struggle against the oppressive state and resumed our ties with South Africa only after the dawn of freedom in 1994. I would also like to salute the courageous struggle of South Africans and also acknowledge the contribution of South Africans of Indian origin, who stood shoulder to shoulder with their compatriots in the fight against the apartheid, facing the worst kind of oppression with determination and fortitude.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
India and South Africa have shared history and also a shared future. We are committed to working together with the South African Government to assist in capacity building and human resource development in South Africa and in Africa. I am, therefore, particularly happy to be laying the foundation stone for the Mahatma Gandhi Centre for Information Technology at the Phoenix Settlement in Durban. This is an important step forward in India's effort to help generate good quality, cost effective and relevant higher education and skills. The IT Centre will cater to the youth of communities around Phoenix Settlement with a view to empowering them to participate and benefit from the knowledge economy.
I am confident that our Government, with the active cooperation of the South African Government, ably supported by the Govt. of Kwa-Zulu Natal as well as the eThekwini Municipality would be successful in making the Mahatma Gandhi Information Technology Centre at the Phoenix Settlement a world class IT education facility and fulfill the needs and aspirations of the South African youth. I also convey my appreciation to the Phoenix Settlement Trust for its positive and forthcoming attitude in supporting the establishment of the IT Centre.
In addition, I would like to acknowledge the efforts of the Phoenix Settlement Trust to impart vocational education to disadvantaged people. I am happy to learn that Kasturba Gandhi School is running well and providing education to thousands of children. The Trust has played an important role in implementing Gandhiji's vision of community living and has made significant contribution for the development of Phoenix Settlement. From this historical site, future generations should learn about the great ideals and values of Gandhiji's life, as also his vision that, "all humanity is one undivided and indivisible family." India and South Africa have demonstrated to the world how they have struggled to fight for justice, and, in the future too, they must be the torch-bearers of human values.