The Durban University of Technology will confer an honorary Doctor of Technology Degree in Health Sciences to Ela Gandhi, in recognition of her untiring commitment to community welfare, non-violence and reconciliation in South Africa and internationally.
The honorary doctorate is also being conferred to Gandhi in recognition of her invaluable contributions to DUT; including her recent role as Chancellor of the University.
Gandhi, a former DUT Chancellor, will receive this award during the University’s graduation ceremony in Durban on Thursday September 6, 2012.
Ela is the granddaughter of the late Mahatma Gandhi and is a peace activist and former ANC Member of Parliament. She was born at the then Phoenix Settlement where Indians, Coloureds, Whites and Africans lived in harmony. This is also where Mahatma Gandhi dreamt of building a non-racial society.
Ela matriculated at the former Durban Indian Girls High School, after which she obtained a Social Sciences degree from the University of South Africa (Unisa).
Growing up in an ashram, Ela was strongly influenced by her family’s tradition of non-violent resistance. She joined the Defiance Campaign marches at the age of 12 which marked the beginning of a dedicated and courageous life in politics.
Ela became Vice-President of the Natal Indian Congress in 1971. She was a member of the Detainees Support Committee in Durban where she participated in a number of support groups which assisted detainees. She was a founding member of the Natal Organisation of Women and her work as a social worker, political and social activist revolved around creating strategies to raise awareness about race, poverty and gender as well as ways to end these injustices.
In 1975, Ela was banned and placed under house arrest for eight years. However, this did not deter her from continuing her activism and community work.
Ela served in the Natal Indian Congress (NIC), ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) and the United Democratic Front (UDF), where she sat on the Transitional Executive Council (TEC) before the first democratic elections in 1994 after which she served as MP in the newly led ANC government until 1999.
During her first term in Parliament, she helped the people in Phoenix (her constituency at the time) to set up a 24-hour domestic violence help line service. Local people, both men and women, were trained and helped to run the 24-hour service.
Upon her exit from politics, Ela founded Satyagraha, a Durban-based NGO that publishes a monthly newspaper by the same name. Now 12 -old, the monthly newspaper has a circulation of 21 000 papers. She also founded the Gandhi Development Trust which promotes Gandhian values. She is also a Trustee of the Mahamta Gandhi Memorial Trust which holds property donated by Mahatma Gandhi to the NIC during apartheid. The NIC transferred the property to a trust to keep it away from the reach of the apartheid government.
Ela is member of the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Trust as well as the Mahatma Gandhi Salt March Organising Committee. She is also Honorary International president of the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP). Her role models include Chief Albert Luthuli, Africa’s first Nobel Peace Laureate, her grandfather Mahatma Gandhi, former South Africa president Nelson Mandela and Monty Naicker; anti-apartheid activist.
She has received numerous awards including the Community of Christ International Peace Award in 2002 and the Padma Bushan Award by the Indian government in 2007 in honour of her outstanding community service. This is India’s third highest civilian honour and was conferred by Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam at his home in New Delhi.
Representing the Gandhi Development Trust, Ela Gandhi presented the Dalai Lama the Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Peace and Reconciliation in December 2011 in Bodh Gaya, India.
– Sinegugu Ndlovu