Fri, Jul 31, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Gandhi’s former home in South Africa up for sale

SUBURBAN SURPRISE: After a sluggish start, interest is hotting up in a Johannesburg property where Gandhi spent three years early last century

THE GUARDIAN , JOHANNESBURG

There is no statue, no sign to point the way and no special plaque above the door. At first glance it is hard to believe this was a cradle of a political philosophy that would shake governments around the world.

The Krall, tucked away in a quiet suburb of Johannesburg, was once the home of Mahatma Gandhi. He spent only three years here, but they were decisive in his development of Satyagraha, the creed of non-violent resistance that would inspire his fellow Indians and leaders such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

Now the house is up for sale. The owners, Jarrod and Nancy Ball, are moving out after 28 years. They were struggling to attract interest until the property’s appearance on the open market was reported in a South African newspaper. Now they are taking calls from India and all over the world, and are certain to raise far more than their initial South African 2.8 million rand (US$360,000) asking price.

Gandhi who spent 21 years in South Africa as a lawyer and political activist, is believed to have moved to the house in 1908.

“Truly speaking, it was after I went to South Africa that I became what I am now,” he once said. “My love for South Africa and my concern for her problems are no less than for India.”

The century-old Krall is in gated grounds in the northern Orchards suburb of Johannesburg. A beautiful garden contains fig, jacaranda, pomegranate and tulip trees, along with scented shrubs and, fittingly, two Pride of India trees.

It is a building steeped in history and tastefully decorated with artwork, statuettes and a piano. Gandhi’s first biographer, the Reverend Joseph Doke, wrote: “I write this in the house in which he [Gandhi] usually lives when in Johannesburg. Yonder is the open stoop — there is the rolled-up mattress on which he sleeps.”

The stoop is still there, and above the kitchen is the loft where Gandhi may have slept. The loft, accessed via a stepladder, became a den for the Balls’ son, Jarvis, and now contains books, a globe, animal skulls, model ships and a Leeds Rhinos rugby league shirt.

The family bought the five-bedroom house from a British woman for 65,000 rand in 1981.

“All the owners have known about the Gandhi connection and cherished it,” said Nancy Ball, 55, a US-born artist. “There is such a legacy at this property. Some mornings I get up quite early and listen to the birds start to sing. There’s a magic here you don’t expect to find in Johannesburg. We’ve had a real feeling of safety here as well.”

Ball and her 60-year-old husband, a consultant in waste management, are moving to Cape Town to be near their three grown-up children. They have been overwhelmed by the interest in the house sparked by this week’s publicity.

“It’s unbelievable. I’ve lost count of the bids,” she said.

Kirti Menon, a great-great-granddaughter of Gandhi who lives in Johannesburg but had been unaware of the Krall, was due to view the property.

Ball said: “I feel passionately that it should be preserved. I would like to see a museum here. I think there’s a special place in South African history for Gandhi. So much of the thinking that led to Satyagraha and phenomenal planet-shaking changes began in Johannesburg because of the unfairness and injustice. The seeds of change were planted here.”

Gandhi arrived in South Africa in 1893 to handle a legal case in Pretoria. He became Johannesburg’s first Indian attorney in 1903. He campaigned for the right of Indians in South Africa to be treated as equal citizens, and in 1908 led a non-violent march to a mosque where hundreds of official passes were burned. He had numerous homes in South Africa but most have been demolished.

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