PIETERMARITZBURG, South Africa (AP) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday marked a historic South African train journey by Indian independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi that ended up shaping the fate of both countries.
Modi’s train ride commemorated the incident in which a young Gandhi in 1893 was ejected from a South African train when he refused an order to move from a first-class carriage because of his race.
The encounter influenced Gandhi’s decision to resist racial segregation and other injustices with nonviolent protest, first while living in South Africa and then in India.
Saturday’s train ride, with Modi sitting in a wood-paneled car with local officials, was under heavy security. He also mingled with members of South Africa’s community of Indian origin, which numbers more than 1 million.
“We didn’t expect him to go and mix with all the people, but he did,” said Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of Gandhi and a former member of South Africa’s parliament. “That’s good. That is what we need.”
Modi later told reporters he’d had the great fortune to pay his respects at places “that are memorable for being part of Mahatma Gandhi’s life and in India’s independence journey.”
India’s government says it was the first country to cut trade relations with South Africa over its former harsh system of racial segregation, which lasted for decades and ended in the 1990s.
Both Modi and South African President Jacob Zuma on Friday paid tribute to what Zuma called “two liberation icons,” Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, who was elected in 1994.
Modi goes to Tanzania later Saturday and then to Kenya on a four-nation tour meant to raise India’s profile in Africa, where China’s presence has been strong. He began in Mozambique.
Associated Press reporter Muneeza Naqvi in New Delhi contributed.