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South Africa enjoys biggest ever Diwali celebrations

Expatriate Indians, black and white communities got together to mark the festival of lights across the country.

india Updated: Nov 03, 2005 12:04 IST

South Africa enjoyed the biggest public Diwali celebrations in its history as local and expatriate Indians, black and white communities got together to mark the Hindu festival of lights across the country.

The most historic event took place at the Constitution Hill here, where Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela were imprisoned. Many other prominent South African freedom fighters were also confined in this former prison, earlier known as The Fort.

He celebrations were hosted jointly by the Indian mission here and the City of Johannesburg.

Taking part in the celebrations, City mayor Amos Masondo said: "The Constitution Hill is a symbol of the struggles of the people of India and the people of South Africa.

"We are indeed proud that Gandhi lived and led the Passive Resistance Campaign in this city."

The mayor said plans were under way to mark the centenary next year of Gandhi's famous speech on the steps of the old Imperial Theatre in downtown Johannesburg, which set in motion a powerful campaign of resistance against oppression and injustice.

"Mandela and Gandhi continued the tradition of Lord Rama, who many thousands of years ago fought a valiant and sterling battle against the formidable demon Ravanna, said Masondo.

"The message of Diwali is simple, yet profound, and retains its importance to this day. The message of Diwali reminds us that we need to look deep within ourselves to assist in fighting the evils of racism, poverty, xenophobia and discriminations that afflict our societies."

Indian High Commissioner Satyabrata Pal regaled the audience with his eloquent address. He narrated a tale of how a foreign diplomat visiting India to assist in peace talks with Pakistan at Diwali time had feared that India had exercised its nuclear option when he heard massive fireworks explosions.

The evening was rounded off with a performance by the visiting Maharashtrian Lavani Music and Dance group and local Zulu dancers. As the performance raised the spirits, a number of dignitaries including the city mayor joined the dancers on the stage.

Fireworks display was organised in Johannesburg and in the Indian dominated township of Lenasia, where thousands gathered at the Rameshwar temple.

At the temple, South African Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula said he had brought his young children along so that they could remember later in their lives the proud heritage that Indians have.

While the events in Johannesburg were the first of their kind, the annual beachfront Diwali Festival attracted thousands of people of all races in Durban, where the majority of South Africa's 1.2 million Indians live.

Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was present at the celebrations as the guest speaker. In her speech, Ngcuka compared the heroics of Lord Rama with Mandela and Gandhi.

"The story of Lord Rama needs to be told from generation to generation, enhancing goodwill among our people and bringing them all together," she told a crowd undeterred by a bad weather with rains.

Ashwin Trikamjee, president of the South African Hindu Maha Sabha, said the involvement of some of the top leaders in the country in the Diwali events was a clear message that Diwali celebrations were for all South Africans.

First Published: Nov 03, 2005 12:04 IST