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For local litterbugs, itís just a station, for others, itís a pilgrimage
04 Oct 2010

MEMBERS of the Pietermaritzburg Gandhi Committee, Madan Ghela and David Gengan, were rushing around the Pietermaritzburg Station yesterday morning trying to clear away litter as a delegation of Indian visitors was making its way to the historic site where Mahatma Gandhi was thrown off a train.

Gengan and his wife, Gloria, were at the station the day before polishing the plaques at the station. They had also swept and dusted, but in vain, because by yesterday morning litter had piled up once more. This had been left by passengers who disembarked from a 9 pm train on Saturday night.

Mayor Mike Tarr shook his head as he looked around, saying it is hugely embarrassing that an area that attracts so many overseas visitors is in such an untidy state.

But all is not lost, Tarr added, because the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) has commissioned a study to upgrade the station and the surrounding precinct and he is hopeful that this project will get under way.

Msunduzi Council speaker Baboo Baijoo said there was another study done on the urban renewal of the upper city centre. It was funded by the Development Bank of South Africa and was known as the Bavistock Development Project. Hopefully this would be another project that can be revived in the city, he said.

By the time the delegation of overseas visitors arrived, the station looked cleaner and there were sighs of relief all around.

This visit marked some significant milestones. One is the conconclusion of the first regional gathering of the Indian diaspora community in Africa — a meeting that took place in Durban and ended with a dinner attended by over 500 guests on Saturday night.

The visit also commemorated Gandhi’s birthday, which was also on Saturday. For India’s Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs, Vayalar Ravi, it was the fulfilment of a schoolboy dream.

“While I was in school reading about Gandhi in my textbook written in Malayalam, I always said I wanted to come here,” he said. Ravi noted that Gandhi was kicked off the train in June, while he was born and married in June. “My marriage caused quite a stir, it broke down down barriers, as my wife was Catholic,” he added.

It was clear from his delight that the minister cherished his visit. For him it was a pilgrimage to a hallowed historical site. For the locals, however, it is just the Maritzburg station. — WR.

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