Arts, Culture & Heritage

Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi

Last Updated: July 30, 2023
Artist

Usha Seejarim

A Brief History

The Gandhi Memorial commemorates the moment on August 16 1908, when Mohandas K Gandhi led over 3000 Muslims, Hindus and Christians of Asian descent to the Hamidia Mosque to burn their passbooks in a cauldron.

About 18 months earlier a law had been proposed which would force all Indian ‘men’ – males older than eight – to be fingerprinted and carry registration certificates. Those who couldn’t or wouldn’t produce this pass on demand were to be fined or imprisoned.

This peaceful defiance against the race laws of South Africa – then still a British colony under the leadership of Jan Smuts – marks the first significant act of passive resistance (satyagraha), Gandhi’s budding ideology that close to four decades later helped to bring down the British Empire in India.

Subject to common discrimination under the Asiatic Act, the event united a community separated along language, class, religious and caste lines around a common cause. Gandhi had relocated to Johannesburg from India in 1893 to establish himself as a lawyer and it was his experience of colonial racism and injustice that led him to found the satyagraha (passive resistance) movement that the burning of the passes exemplified. Guided by this experience, he returned to India in 1914 to lead the country to independence, before being assassinated in 1948.

The work was commissioned by the Sunday Times as part of its Centenary Heritage project undertaken in partnership with the South African History Archive (SAHA). The project marked the 100th anniversary of the newspaper, and involved commissioning artworks linked to major figures or events that shaped the news during the course of the newspaper’s history.

When the artist was approached to develop the work, she had been reading Gandhi's The Story of My Experiments With Truth, which informed the revolving text element above the cauldron.

 

Description

The sculpture depicts a 80cm x 1.3m cast iron pot, a “potjie”, similar to the cauldrons in which passes were burned during protests in 1908. Inside the cauldron is a zoetrope. When the cauldron is spun the image of the Indian registration certificate can be seen through the slits in the side of the iron pot.

The cauldron sits on a 2.2m high steel thaumatrope placed on a concrete base of 1m x 1.5m. The total height of the artwork is 3.2m

 

Artwork Signage

The Gandhi Memorial commemorates the moment on August 16 1908, when Mohandas K Gandhi led over 3000 Muslims, Hindus and Christians of Asian descent to the Hamidia Mosque to burn their passbooks in a cauldron.

About 18 months earlier a law had been proposed which would force all Indian ‘men’ – males older than eight – to be fingerprinted and carry registration certificates. Those who couldn’t or wouldn’t produce this pass on demand were to be fined or imprisoned.

This peaceful defiance against the race laws of South Africa – then still a British colony under the leadership of Jan Smuts – marks the first significant act of passive resistance (satyagraha), Gandhi’s budding ideology that close to four decades later helped to bring down the British Empire in India.

Subject to common discrimination under the Asiatic Act, the event united a community separated along language, class, religious and caste lines around a common cause. Gandhi had relocated to Johannesburg from India in 1893 to establish himself as a lawyer and it was his experience of colonial racism and injustice that led him to found the satyagraha (passive resistance) movement that the burning of the passes exemplified. Guided by this experience, he returned to India in 1914 to lead the country to independence, before being assassinated in 1948.

The work was commissioned by the Sunday Times as part of its Centenary Heritage project undertaken in partnership with the South African History Archive (SAHA). The project marked the 100th anniversary of the newspaper, and involved commissioning artworks linked to major figures or events that shaped the news during the course of the newspaper’s history.

When the artist was approached to develop the work, she had been reading Gandhi's The Story of My Experiments With Truth, which informed the revolving text element above the cauldron.

 

Location & Address

Opposite the Hamidia Mosque, Jennings Street, Fordsburg Sidewalk