Introduction to Satyagraha in South Africa

I am right now in the biggest indian city outside India, Durban in South Africa, the perfect Time to sum up this project. Making it « little » is a bit of a challenge, as Satyagraha House
was such a human and personnal adventure for most of us who worked on the project.

I am Fabrice Dabouineau and I was not supposed to be related to a project on Mahatma Gandhi, busy promoting the African continent. My historian background and taste for all spiritualities would help. When Jean François Rial called me in a summer evening, he asks me to investigate after he saw an article in a french newspaper. This article talked about the Gandhi House, an actual Family house for sale for more than 2 years in Johannesburg. It was july 31st 2009. 3 weeks later, Our company signed for the purchase of the house. Jean François Rial, CEO of Voyageurs du Monde, deeply concerned about India, Gandhi’s Life and heritage really pushed to buy this house in spite of many rational misadvandages. He was strongly convinced it was a chance for him and for all of us to accomplish our life masterpiece, something which could be bigger than all of us.

Then, I signed for an adventure of more than 2 years which would change my Life in a very personal way as well. 2 years during which everything went smoothly even if we are based 8000 km from Johannesburg. We naturally met 3 major persons who really helped us translate our wishes and visions in reality.

Eric Itzkin, a major South African historian, specialized on Gandhi’s Life in South Africa and author of the book « Johannesburg, Satyagraha’s birthplace ». His knowledge and science really helped us knowing more about the role the House played in Gandhi spiritual way to non violence struggle.

Lauren Segal, famous and talented museum designer, already author of a great exhibition on Gandhi in Constitution Hill Museum in Johannesburg.

And, finally, Rocco Bosman, the architect who managed the whole project on the architectural point of view, specialist of heritage architecture and who really managed to translate all our expectations in the project. He unfortunately passed away in february 2012. This project changed his Life as well.

We learnt little by little the role this House, formerly named, the Kraal (the farm) played in his life. He has been living in the House between 1907 and 1909, while he started to struggle for the rights of Indians in a segregationist South Africa. He also left his family Life to start living with his friend, Hermann Kallenbach, architect of the house, built, for both of us and their friends. Gandhi, then, started to theorize the passive resistance, he named Satyagraha. This is where he started to named the eleven vows which would lead his life and his struggle until the end of his life. This is in this House, also, where the first biography of Gandhi has been written by Reverend Doke, his very close friend.

We then decided first to create a museum, dedicated to Gandhi, Kallenbach and of course the Satyagraha. Our purpose was not to recreate the House how it was in the early 20th century, but to make a museum which could be and communicate a message of peace and non violence, the message which is still alive. To ensure the viability of the project independently from our company, we decided to insert a guest house, on a non profitable matter which would allow people to live a unique experience and to finance for ever the heritage that merges.

We bought and designed objects and furnitures in Gujarat India, in South Africa and in Europe. our decorator together with the architect and the museum designer worked together to create a new spirit and design which would fit with Gandhi’s phylosophy… Simple but nice, no luxurious, but simplicity, where decoration only serves the cause and the message.

At last, we designed Some unavoidable rules which would fit the Gandhi’s thoughts and Satyagraha: only vegetarian, no alcohol, no smoking, no TV or music or any entertainement except the exhibition, the many books brought from the entire world and the ambiance of such a unique place where we provide yoga and meditation initiation. The museum would be free for all individuel visitors, affordable for those who wish to stay at the house as guest, exemplary on human ressources (decent salaries, full medical aid and pension for all employees (15).

The House and its 7 rooms is opened since august 2011, launched in November with the presence of many members of the indian community in Johannesburg. Many relatives of Kallenbach, Thambi Naidoo and Gandhi himself came, visited and approved our work. The most recent one is Tara Gandhi, grand daughter of Gandhi Himself.

The Satyagraha House is now running and is visited by local and international visitors, for a simple visit, a vegetarian meal or a night. This house is now part of the heritage of Johannesburg City, it became one unavoidable place to visit in the city, symbol of the 20 years Gandhi spent in South Africa and where he politically started to build his thoughts and philosophy before going back to India to accomplish his national and Universal destiny.

The house visit starts with an hand written message from Gandhi, « My Life is my message », we, Jean François, Eric, Lauren, Rocco and I together and modestly think the Satyagraha House is our message; a tribute to Gandhi, his life and what he changed in the humanity by giving up the violence to fight, by being convinced truth always wins.

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