Joburg unveils Gandhi statue

2 October 2003

The City of Johannesburg marked Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday on 2 October by unveiling a bronze statue of him in Gandhi Square in the city centre.

Earlier this year sculptor Tinka Christopher won the tender to produce the 2.5 metre statue, which she said took her three months of almost non-stop work to complete.

“I worked 10 hours each day, seven days a week, to complete the work in time,” she said.

The tall statue depicts Gandhi as a young lawyer in his gown, over a suit, with a book under his arm, looking determinedly forward, with the breeze blowing his cloak to one side. He looks into the centre of the square, and on top of a 5m tall plinth, makes for an imposing figure in the space. The plinth has wooden benches positioned around its base, making it people-friendly.

Gandhi practised as an attorney at the Johannesburg Law Courts, which were the city’s first law courts, in what was known as Government Square (now renamed Gandhi Square). The courts were in use until 1911 when the Pritchard Street Supreme Court building was built. They were eventually demolished in 1948 and made way for the city’s main bus terminus, which is still functional.

Gandhi arrived in South Africa in 1893, and at first practised law in Johannesburg in the early 1900s. But in time he became more active in resistance politics. He was tried at the Law Courts, convicted and sentenced for pass law offences, among them the call to Indians and Chinese to burn their pass books.

He left the country for India in 1914, after having shaped and established his policy of “Satyagraha” or passive resistance.

Christopher’s other works around the city include a two-children sculpture in Bank City, a fish eagle at corporate offices in Midrand, and a stallion at Toyota’s offices in Sandton.

The winning entry was adjudicated by the advisory committee of the Johannesburg Art Gallery. Proposals were received from three other sculptors: Naomi Jacobson, Ben Omar and Maureen Quin.

To prevent the theft of the bronze sculpture, an alarm has been fitted inside the statue, and any vibrations will be immediately picked up, and set off a signal to a security company.

The statue went up on Monday and was officially unveiled by Mayor Amos Masondo on Thursday. “It fits the space well,” said Christopher with a satisfied smile when the bubble wrap was removed.

Eric Itzkin, the deputy director of Immovable Heritage, said he was pleased with how the statue worked out. “I am happy with the final choice.” The City donated half of the cost of the work, and the rest came from private donations.

Meanwhile, Tolstoy Farm, 35 kilometres southwest of Johannesburg, on which Gandhi spent some time living a communal kibbutz existence with a small community of 50 adults and 30 children, is to be recreated as a community centre and museum.

Source: City of Johannesburg website