Johannesburg: Lenasia, the predominantly Indian suburb in south of the city, now for the first time shelters statue of Mahatma Gandhi, more than half-a-century after the area was developed by the South Africa's apartheid government to settle all the Indians of the capital.

The statue was installed at the Trade Route Mall shopping complex which is less than 10 km from Tolstoy Farm, the home of Gandhi and his followers when the Indian leader spent time in the city as a young lawyer.

Mohan Hira, a renowned sportsman and a worker from Gujarat Community in Lenasia, said the statue had been made by fervent Gandhian follower Kantilal Patel in Ahmedabad, India.

"(Patel) had already retired by the time I approached him and he could not attend the opening because he is nearly 90 now," Hira said.

"It took (Patel) three years to make it after I appealed to him. When I told him about Tolstoy Farm, Gandhi's home in Johannesburg while he led the anti-apartheid struggle here, he agreed," Hira said.

Tolstoy Farm has fallen into disuse for years now, with plans supported by the Indian government finally in place to restore it as a Gandhian monument.

Hira has spent the past three decades trying to get Tolstoy Farm repaired, undertaking several projects including a walk from there to Durban, some 600 km away, to raise funds and regular community events on the floor of Gandhi's house, which is all that is left of the once-thriving commune.

Hira said the plan had always been to install the statue on Tolstoy Farm, but the huge risk of vandalism there prompted him to approach the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, which is erecting a centre in Lenasia that will also promote the Gandhian ideals of non-racialism.

Shan Balton of the Foundation said they welcomed Hira's offer to house the statue there when the Centre opens in 2014 until the time it found its final resting place in the revamped Tolstoy Farm, but Trade Route Mall co-owner Ismail Vally wanted to let it remain at the Mall permanently.

This prompted Indian High Commissioner Virendra Gupta to promise to get more statues of the iconic Indian leader for Lenasia.

"My appeal to all those who are involved with this project is to allow this statue to remain here on a permanent basis.
Gupta made a plea to the community to not just put up a statue of the Mahatma, but to "walk the talk" and implement the very simple things that Gandhi stood for - truth and non-violence.

(Agencies)