Vignettes of a South African Township called Mdantsane

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Notes from East London Transkei, Mthatha and Walter Sisulu University

Walter Sisulu photo Walter_Sisulu_zpsp4rdrx0q.jpg

Drove down to Umtata through beautiful flowing hills and dales. Umtata, the capital of the former Bantustan of Transkei is 232 kms from East London. An independent republic during those turbulent times, I had entered this country in 1993 and joined the Department of Orthopaedics under the late Professor Chris McConnachie, an extraordinary surgeon with a Christian missionary zeal. The other person who made a permanent impression on me was Transkei’s then President, General Bantu Holomisa. An easily approachable and an amicable person, he converted Transkei into a hub of development. As a Member of Parliament now, with his own political organization, he remembers me with a broad smile whenever I go to meet him during his brief sojourns to East London. Not many countries of the world knew about Transkei. The government of India obviously did, primarily because of its interest in the struggle and the ANC office at Bhagat Singh Market at Delhi. Led by the iconic leader Comrade Mosie Moolah, the ANC office was later given full diplomatic status.

The world’s best known name and loved by all, Nelson Mandela came from the village of Qunu, a hamlet on the way to Umtata. It’s natural for me to relive the memories of Nelson Mandela as I approach Qunu and look towards his home on my way to Umtata. His closeness to Jyoti Bose was mentioned to me many a times.

After the democratic elections of 1994, Transkei and other such homelands were integrated into the new South Africa. Umtata was renamed as Mthaha and the University of Transkei became Walter Sisulu University. Water Sisulu was one of the foremost freedom fighters during the period of struggle against apartheid. He was also India’s close friend. Jailed at Robben Island for 25 years, he passed away on 5 May 2003. Walter Sisulu too belonged to Transkei, born in the town of Ngcobo

Our daughter, Shubhoshree studies Medicine at the Walter Sisulu University, Mthatha. As I enter the haloed realms of the university, I am also reminded of the Government of India’s highest award, the Padma Vibhushan presented to Walter Sisulu in 1997. Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of the Mahatma and also one the greatest activist in the struggle against apartheid was also decorated with Padma Bhushan in 1998.

Going to Transkei is like going back home. So much of memories, so much of life lived there.

Gopal Krishna Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma became India’s High Commissioner to South Africa in 1996. He calls me Amitabh babu.

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