The 35th annual Gandhi Walk, a cherished tradition in Johannesburg’s mainly-Indian suburb of Lenasia, finally took place on Sunday after a three-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Times of India reports that this year’s event featured a new format. This delightful six-kilometre walk concluded with diverse entertainment, drawing more than two thousand participants.
In 2020, just a month before the scheduled walk, the Gandhi Walk Committee postponed the event indefinitely as the pandemic began its relentless march. This choice came despite the considerable costs already incurred in preparing to gather 4,000 registered walkers, spanning traditional distances of 15 kilometres for the more serious athletes and 5 kilometres for families, senior citizens, and even parents pushing prams.
The wisdom of this decision became evident when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a total lockdown a fortnight before the scheduled date. Remarkably, President Ramaphosa had graced the event as the previous year’s chief guest, commending the Committee for its contributions to enhancing social cohesion.
A highlight of this year’s walk was the presence of Harivardan Pitamber, a Lenasia resident who resembles Mahatma Gandhi. Pitamber, a longstanding participant in the event, attracted significant attention, with participants clamouring for selfies alongside him. He fondly recalled how President Ramaphosa had been thrilled to stand beside him.
“Thank you for inviting me and making me part of this great and wonderful Gandhi Walk, and especially with the man himself standing here right next to me – Mahatma Gandhi,” President Ramaphosa had proclaimed to the jubilant crowd as he gestured toward Pitambar. Pitamber, dressed in traditional attire with a bald head, round glasses, and a walking stick, embodied the very image of Gandhi.
Anticipating a smaller turnout than the usual 3,500 participants from previous years, Amit Parbhucharan, the former chairperson of the Committee, noted that the turnout demonstrated people’s yearning for a return to social activities post-pandemic.
The current head of the Committee, Sunita Thakordas, provided insight into the event’s humble beginnings, emphasising that the Gandhi Walk started as a modest fundraiser to complete the Gandhi Hall in Lenasia. Over time, this hall has evolved into a significant venue for community gatherings.
The history of the Gandhi Hall is closely intertwined with the community’s struggles. It was to replace a previous hall in Johannesburg’s heart, where Mahatma Gandhi held numerous public meetings during his tenure. However, due to the apartheid-era government’s policy of separate development, the Indian community was forcibly relocated to Lenasia, some 30 kilometres away, and the original hall was demolished, providing minimal compensation to the community.
Since the completion of the Gandhi Hall, proceeds from the Gandhi Walk have been channelled towards supporting various community welfare organisations. This event not only celebrates the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi but also serves as a testament to the resilience and unity of the community in Lenasia.
Picture: X / ManjunathKS_
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