2 Education and Career
3 Interview with Mwelela Cele
Ela Gandhi was born on 1 July 1940 in Durban as the youngest daughter of Manilal and Sushila Gandhi. Her father, who was Gandhi’s second son, returned from India to South Africa in 1917 to assist in the running of Phoenix Settlement and of the newspaper, The Indian Opinion. By 1920 he had become the editor of the paper and would eventually become its longest serving editor. He married Sushila in 1927 and a year later their first daughter Sita was born, twelve years later in 1940 Ela was born.
As the Gandhi children grew up on the settlement they became strongly influenced by the father Manilal, who had become an important focus of resistance in the local community. The Gandhi children were raised in the spirit of Gandhi’s philosophy of a “life of labour…is a life worth living” . Sharing this belief with Russian philosopher and writer Tolstoy, Gandhi established two communal farms in South Africa, Tolstoy Farm outside Johannesburg and Phoenix Settlement outside Durban. Ela recalls that Gandhi’s “plan was to give each family two acres of land and live a communal life” (Gandhi, E. 1994:39). She notes that Gandhi used the settlement “to train political activists called satyagrahis as well as house their families, while they were engaged in the campaigns against unjust laws”.
Education and Career
Ela Gandhi obtained a BA degree at Natal University and thereafter an Honours in Social Science through UNISA. She practiced as a social worker at the Verulam Child Welfare. Ela is known for her peace activism during the Apartheid era. In 1971, together with Mewa Ramgobin and others, Ela helped revive the Natal Indian Congress, founded by her grandfather Mahatma Gandhi. She was duly elected the Vice President of the Congress. Other affiliations included the United Democratic Front, Descom Crisis Network, and Inanda Support Committee. In 1975 she was banned from political activism and subjected to house arrest for nine years.
She developed a 24-hour program against domestic violence, founded the Gandhi Development Trust, still serves as a member of the Religious Affairs Committee, and oversees a monthly newspaper. She chairs the Mahatma Gandhi Salt March Committee and the Mahatma Gandhi Development Trust. She also participated in CODESA negotiations, served on the Transitional Executive Council and was a Member of Parliament in the National Assembly from1994-2004. She is currently the Chancellor of the Durban University of Technology.
Interview with Mwelela Cele
Duphelia-Meshtrie, U (ed). 2003. Sita – Memoirs of Sita Gandhi – growing up at Phoenix and in the shadow of the Mahatma. Durban: Durban Local History Museum.
Gandhi, E. 1994. They fought for Freedom: Mohanda Gandhi – the South Africa years. Cape Town: Maskew Miller Longman.
Govinden, D.B. 2008. A Time of Memory: reflections on recent South African writings. Durban: Solo Collective.