Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi

Hundreds of metres of khadi — the hand-woven fabric synonymous with Mahatma Gandhi — will adorn the compartments and engine of a replica train in commemoration of the peace icon’s expulsion from a "White’s Only" compartment in Pietermaritzburg, 125 years ago.

Indian high commissioner Ruchira Kamboj announced in Durban on Wednesday that the historic event would be commemorated with an elaborate two-day celebration on June 6 and 7 — parts of which will be televised live in both India and SA by national broadcasters Doordarshan and the SABC.

Kamboj said khadi‚ which became Gandhi’s symbol of resistance against colonial rule and a fashion symbol in India‚ would be imported from India for event.

"One hundred and twenty five years ago, Mahatma Gandhi‚ who was [as] much South African as he was Indian, was removed from a first-class rail compartment and from there began a new journey that was to transform India and, indeed, the entire world.

"He influenced many great personalities ... Nelson Mandela‚ Dr Martin Luther King Jr and so many others."

Kamboj said the event — the vision of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — would bind SA and India‚ which both share "an incredible legacy". "In the meantime, all eyes are turned to SA‚ because this is the precursor to the 150th celebration," she added, referring to India marking the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth with year-long celebrations‚ starting on October 2.

India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj will kick off the local celebrations on June 6 with a dinner and address for about 500 guests. The next day, about 300 dignitaries‚ including Indian and South African politicians‚ are expected to travel on a train‚ similar to the one Gandhi was thrown off‚ from Pentrich Station to Pietermaritzburg station.

"Once the train arrives in Pietermaritzburg there is going to be an enactment of that famous incident."

A two-sided bust of Gandhi will also be unveiled on the station platform. "One side will be Mahatma Gandhi the lawyer in western attire as he came to SA. The other side will be Mahatma Gandhi in his Indian dress as he left SA after 21 years, returning to transform India‚" Kamboj said.

An interactive digital museum — sponsored by the Indian government — will also be launched at the station on the day.