Gandhi Walk in Johannesburg revived after COVID-19 hiatus
Sep 18, 2023
The 35th edition of the annual Gandhi Walk in the mainly-Indian suburb of Lenasia in Johannesburg took place on Sunday after it was delayed for three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than two thousand people joined the new format of a fun six-kilometre walk that ended with a wide range of entertainment.
In 2020, barely a month before the scheduled event and as the pandemic began taking its toll, the Gandhi Walk Committee took a crucial decision to postpone it indefinitely despite the huge costs already incurred in planning to receive 4,000 registered walkers over the traditional two distances of 15km for more serious athletes and 5km for the fun walk for families, senior citizens and even parents pushing prams.
The decision was vindicated when a fortnight before the scheduled date, a total lockdown was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The previous year, Ramaphosa had been the chief guest at the annual events, lauding the Committee for boosting social cohesion.
Lenasia resident Harivardan Pitamber, a Gandhi look-alike who has been part of the event for many years, was there again on Sunday, attracting much attention as participants clamoured for selfies with him.
Pitamber recalled how Ramaphosa had been thrilled to be standing next to 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," Ramaphosa told the cheering crowd as he pointed to Pitambar, who looked the spitting image of Gandhi in his dhoti, complete with bald head, round glasses and a walking stick, at that time.
"It was to be expected that there would be far fewer participants than the average 3,500 who joined the Gandhi Walk previously, but today's turnout showed that people are yearning for a return to social activity post the pandemic," said the previous chairperson of the Committee, Amit Parbhucharan.
Current head of the Committee, Sunita Thakordas, explained that the Gandhi Walk had started in a small way as she called on the participants gathered for the start of the Walk at the Gandhi Hall to reflect on the many who had succumbed to the pandemic, including members of the Committee.
"We are happy with the outcome today after debating at length how we should revive the tradition of the Gandhi Walk. We have taken some observations out of today's revamped Walk and will look at implementing them next year," Thakordas said.
The Walk started as a small fundraiser to complete the Gandhi Hall in Lenasia, which has since become a major venue for all community events.
The hall was built to replace one which was originally built by the local Gujarati community in the centre of Johannesburg, after all the Indian residents were forcibly moved out from there to Lenasia, some 30 km away, by the separate development policy of the minority white apartheid government.
The original hall, site of many public meetings by Mahatma Gandhi during his tenure in Johannesburg as he rallied the community to fight discriminatory laws, was demolished after the community received a pittance as compensation.
Proceeds from the Walk since the completion of the hall some years ago are now shared between a range of community welfare organisations.