Patil visits rail platform where Gandhi was thrown out of train

Concluding her tour of places associated with Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa, President Pratibha Patil on Monday visited the Pietermaritzburg railway station, 80 km from Durban, where Gandhi was thrown out of a train for traveling first class, which was then meant for Whites alone.

The visit to the station's platform, where Gandhi was thrown out of the train, was preceded by a journey in the same train by Patil and the accompanying delegation.

The train has been preserved in a museum here. The steam engine rolled onto the spot marked to commemorate Gandhi's journey on June 7, 1893.

Patil and the delegation visited the waiting room, where Gandhi sat on a bench all night. Mayor Chris Ndelela, Speaker of local assembly Babu Baijoo, \Premier of Kwazulu-Natal Dr Zweli Mkhize were also present. The President wrote two paragraphs in the visitors' book and said it was here that the "long journey began which transformed the course of history". Patil termed the visit "a special honour and a special event" in her life.

The station, commissioned in 1880, is still in use. It has several plaques and markers regarding its unique connection with Gandhi's evolution as a political leader. On South Africa's second anniversary as a free country the Petermaritzburg-Msunduzi Transitional Local Council met on the platform to posthumously confer the Freedom of City award on Gandhi. It was received by the then High Commissioner of India Gopalkrishna Gandhi, who is also the Mahatma's grandson. Speaking on that occasion, then President Nelson Mandela had said, "Today, we are righting a century-old wrong. This station, once one of the world's most notorious symbols of discrimination, intolerance and oppression, today proclaims a message of dignity restored."

There is a statue of Gandhi in the city's Church Street that was unveiled on June 6, 1993 by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

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