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Tourists hoping to visit the Phoenix Settlement, Mahatma Gandhi's living legacy in South Africa, were turned back recently after demonstrators blockaded roads and burnt tyres to protest against poor basic services in the area.
The settlement, north of here, was started by Mahatma Gandhi when he was a young lawyer at the turn of the 19th century, and now serves as a living museum, housing artifacts from Gandhi's time in South Africa. The protest from locals occurred close to the settlement prompting its managers to express concerns.
The trouble started last week when groups of Japanese and Swiss tourists had to be turned away because mainly black residents from the huge neighbouring townships barricaded roads and burnt tyres in protest against alleged poor service from government in providing housing, sanitation, and water and health facilities.
The settlement houses memorabilia associated with Gandhi's time in South Africa, especially related to the many projects he started in his fight against racial discrimination. It was from here that Gandhiji started his experiments with the ideas of passive resistance and non-violent struggle.
"The protests took place a stone's throw away from the settlement and there is no doubt that it can become a deterrent to visitors," information officer Bongani Mthembu at the Gandhi Settlement told the weekly Post. "Things seem to have calmed down since, but then my hope is for a solution to be found as their actions have a knock-on effect for us".
Mthembu told the weekly it was ironic that near a centre dedicated to Gandhi's ideals, people were screaming and throwing stones. Almost a thousand visitors, half of them foreign tourists, each month visit the settlement that also runs a free clinic, creche and sewing classes on the site to assist the communities around it.
Rugbeer Kallideen, secretary of the Phoenix Settlement Trust, said the protest had created fear among people. "I attended a meeting there last Tuesday and was caught off guard by the violence. If it happens again, I fear the settlement's future will be in question," Kallideen told the Post. Police spokesman Captain Thulani Zwane said the area was being regularly patrolled.
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