Meet Ela Gandhi, the granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, who lived his legacy and took us through the life he built. 

The ideas and practices of Mahatma Gandhi, which were born in Durban over a century ago, have changed the world. They live on in Ela Gandhi, hIs soft spoken powerhouse of a granddaughter who’s both an activist of peace and social worker in her own right. 

Gandhi arrived in South Africa in 1893 and spent twenty one years here, before returning to India. He then sent his second son Manilal [Gandhi] back to run the newspaper and settlement he established in KZN. This was where Ela, the daughter of Manilal, together with her siblings was born. 

Ela earned her Honours degree in Social Work, was drawn into activism, banned, arrested but kept up the Gandhi family calling.Much like her grandfather, she’s about community not a career.

Some of her most notable work has been her efforts for social justice during the time of Apartheid in South Africa. Despite being placed under house arrest and the struggles it brought her family, she continued to work toward an end to the unjust social practice. She also assisted in helping South Africa transition to a post-Apartheid state of normalcy by sitting on the Transitional Executive Committee in the South African government. 

The ashram of the Phoenix Settlement that she grew up in was the exact same place that the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi started. It’s here that he transformed his life from a successful Lawyer to a simple Peasant with a passion for liberation, nonviolence and spirituality. 

Gandhi took a leaf from the example of the nearby Marianhill Monastery – of a simple life without discrimination or hierarchy. It was one that he applied in his own life while promoting a self-sufficient existence.

It’s at this site near Durban that Ela gave us a background to Gandhi’s concept of Satyagraha. 

“Satyagraha, means the pursuit of truth. This pursuit of truth was to prosecute a non-violent struggle against injustice. By keeping quiet you are condoning the injustice so you must speak up but all your actions must be non-violent,” explains Ela. 

It is incredible that here in the Durban house where Mohandas Gandhi brought his family to live, a force was born which would transform civil rights and usher in entire democracies.

Following in those footsteps, Ela wants to leave a legacy of hard work for the greater good. As did the newspaper which her family started in the printing press building on the premises..

The building now houses the Durban Tourism office and a computer learning centre – a source of pride for Senior Tourism Officer Bongani Mthembu.

“I’ve learned a lot from Ela Gandhi because she is soft spoken and has courage to work with needy communities. She has involved herself in training local people through gardening and tailor making. She’s also involved in working with a creche and the Department of Health to invite people to come and teach local people. So Ela has made a great impact in our communities,” says Bongani.  

Nominated for world heritage status as the birthplace of nonviolence, the Phoenix Settlement and Ela’s work here -all part of the enduring, practical value of Gandhi’s ideas – have more than stood the test of time.

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