Most of 100 acres of land where Mahatma Gandhi first experimented with equity and simple living, now invoked to save Durban climate summit, has been encroached. Gandhi established Phoenix Settlement in 1904 on the north-western edge of Inanda, some 20 kilometres north of Durban. "My grandfather's farm was fifteen miles away from the city amid sugarcane fields and untouched by the then racial laws, said Gandhi's granddaughter Ela Gandhi.
"Gandhi started the settlement with the equity concept where everyone had an equal right," said Kallideen, secretary of Gandhi's Pheonix Settlement Trust. It was here he started the newspaper Indian Opinion in four languages --- Hindi, English, Tamil and Gujarat --- to spread his message of equal rights for everyone and racial laws of then South African government.
Now the settlement symbolise the darker side of Durban, which to a visitor appears as a posh city. Thousands of shanties made of mud walls and tin sheets is spread over 100 acres of land Gandhi bought to experiment with low cost lifestyle and non-violent satyagraha.
In mid 1990s, the Gandhi's original home, printing press and his original belongings were burnt in a riot by locals protesting against racial discrimination. Much of Gandhi's property was encroached upon. On a small piece of land that was saved, Gandhi's original house was restored in 2004 with the help of the Indian government.
Even though apartheid ended in South Africa the encroachment has not stopped. "No action is taken against them as they constitute a vote-bank for political parties," rued Kallideen, who joined the trust after retiring as principal of a school.
The so-called encroachers refuse to leave Gandhi's land till the government compensates them with homes, which the government is reluctant to do. As a result, one find Gandhi's famous Pheonix settlement on Durban's rolling mountains having shanties of the poorest of the port city.