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Gandhi’s writings find new home in South Africa

Gandhi’s writings find new home in South Africa
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Over 3,000 books written by renowned writers across the globe, including 12 volumes of collected works of Mahatma Gandhi, amassed over six decades by...

Over 3,000 books written by renowned writers across the globe, including 12 volumes of collected works of Mahatma Gandhi, amassed over six decades by an Indian-origin family has found a permanent home at a knowledge centre in South Africa.

Most of the books, once banned under the apartheid regime, were handed over at a ceremony by an internationally-renowned and South Africa-born academic, now living in the UK, Mohamed Keshavjee, a descendent of the Keshavjee family who came to South Africa from Gujarat and settled in Pretoria.

The ceremony was dedicated to Indian-origin lawyer Ismail Mahomed, who was appointed the first Chief Justice in democratic South Africa by President Nelson Mandela. Mohamed died in 2000. "No one can deny the seminal role that Ismail Mahomed played in the restoration of the confidence of the people of South Africa in its judiciary as an important pillar of the Rule of Law in the new South Africa," said Keshavjee.

"I somehow became the custodian of this collection which grew from a handful of books in Marabastad (the old Asiatic Bazaar in Pretoria) to a library it has now become, as my 11 siblings and I travelled through a number of countries in three continents over the past 60 years, looking for a homeland, but never forgetting our roots which are deeply located in this beloved country," he said.

The Keshavjee family, along with most of the small but thriving Ismaili community from Pretoria, moved to Kenya and Uganda in the 1950's when draconian apartheid legislation came into effect after the minority white Afrikaners came to power. Some of them, including Keshavjee, were again forced to leave Uganda when Idi Amin decided to expel all Asians from the country. Keshavjee handed over his law practice to a local lawyer and started life afresh in Canada and the UK to become a highly celebrated academic specialising in mediation across the globe.

Now semi-retired, Keshavjee said he was delighted that the books were being housed in the country of his birth, where many of the books were once banned under the apartheid regime. "After moving to Kenya, I was fortunate enough to be able to collect books on the African Freedom movement written by renowned African writers. I also collected books by many South Africans that were banned in their home country."

The collection also include the first 12 volumes of the collected works of Mahatma Gandhi, covering his entire life in South Africa. In addition, there are biographies of Gandhi ranging from the first ever, by the Reverend J J Doke and other authors. "We also have the first biography on Mahatma Gandhi ever written by a South African-Indian. This was by P S Joshi and I have a personally autographed first edition of it," Keshavjee said.

Chairperson of the National Committee for South Africa of the Ismaili community, Yasmin Kurmaly said that the books were now being catalogued to become an important resource, but because of the rare nature of the collection, could unfortunately not be part of a lending library.

"However, the Knowledge Centre has an early childhood development programme and this collection hopefully will inspire mothers to encourage their children to read," Kurmaly said.

- Fakir Hassen

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