Awards of Recognition to Honourable Early Associates of Gandhiji and Phoenix Settlement 1904-1914

The Gandhi Development Trust recognises on this important occasion of the centenary of Phoenix Settlement, the outstanding contribution, dedication and devoted service rendered by the following individuals to the building of an egalitarian society based on the principles of non-violence.

1. Pragji Desai and Parvatiben Desai

Pragji Desai came to South Africa in 1906 at the age of 22. His goal was to start a successful enterprise but he met Gandhiji within three days of landing, and his life changed. Gandhiji first took him to Phoenix where they discussed the possibility of him working in the press. Pragji, however, first worked as a bookkeeper and then joined the Satyagraha struggle. He later became one of the settlers at Tolstoy Farm and went to jail at least six times. He and Gandhiji's sons Harilal and Manilal and Surendra Medh became inseparable friends and courted prison together. Later in the 1920s and 1930s, Pragji supported Manilal at Phoenix often editing the paper in his absence and he together with Parvati and their children lived at Phoenix for extended periods. Pragji returned to India in the late 1930s and took part in the struggle for independence there. His son Ranjith lives with his two sons, Dhilip and Raju in Johannesburg.

2. Purshottamdas Desai and Anandiben Desai

Purshottamdas was born in Porbander in 1874 and in 1902 he married Anandi (Aniben), the daughter of Abhechand Amratlal Gandhi, a cousin of Gandhiji who lived in Tongaat. He came to live at Phoenix a few years after it was founded and took charge of teaching the children in the school that Gandhiji had started there. He helped with editing the Gujarati section of the newspaper. In 1910 he was sentenced to six months in prison. He passed away on 25.1.1952 at his home in 9th avenue Greyville, Durban. He and Aniben had 8 sons and 5 daughters - Varjivandas, Nagin, Krishna, Shantilal, Kanti, Manilal (the sole surviving son- living in South Africa) Ramesh, Pravin, Chandra, Rama Lalita Suraj and Indu (the sole surviving daughter - living in India) - This family is well known in the north coast as members of the Gandhi-Desai family.

3. Anandlal Gandhi

He was the son of one of Gandhiji's uncles (a brother of Karamchand Gandhi). He first settled in Tongaat but later became one of the first settlers at Phoenix Settlement. He was a Gujarati compositor in the press. He had six children, Vijya, Vasantrai, Prabha, Ranchodas, Shantilal, and Radha. Shantilal came to live at Phoenix in the 1930s. He worked in the press for a while. He later moved to Durban and began his own business. He had five children, Nilam. Tarla. Hemendra, Prakash (passed away) and Dipak. The other son Vasantrai Gandhi returned to India but came back to South Africa with his family in 1945. He is survived by his three sons, Sumanlal, Sureshchandra and Krushnakumar, who reside in Durban.

4. Oinar Hajec Ainod Jhaveri

He was the brother of Aboobaker Amod the first Indian trader to come to Natal. He initially wished to become a lawyer but soon worked for the firm of Dada Abdulla and Company. Like Gandhiji the Jhaveri family originated from Porbander. He was an early associate of Gandhiji's and served as the NIC secretary for several years.

He followed Gandhiji into the Natal Indian Association when it was started in 1913 and supported the Satyagraha of 1913. He was appointed as one of the trustees of Phoenix Settlement in 1914 and continued to play an important role in Indian politics serving as the President of the South African Indian Congress in 1932. He had two children, Noor Mohamed Jhaveri and Halima Jhaveri. Noor Mohamed had one son, Amod Jhaveri and 6 daughters, Sherbanoo (now late). Ayesha, Zohra who married her cousin Yusuf(now late), Laila, Bilkishdives in London) and Farida. Halima Jhaveri married Aboobaker Moosa and had four sons. Yusuf (passed away). Farouk Moosa, Moosa Moosa, and Omar Moosa. They all live in Durban with their families. Farouk has 3 children, Moosa Moosa has 3 children and Omar has 4 children.

5. Hermann Kallenbach

Born in 18A7 in East Russia he qualified as an architect in Germany before coming to Johannesburg in 1896. He had an office very close to Gandhiji's law practice in Rissik Street and the two met in 1903. This was the beginning of a very close friendship.

He played a central role in assisting the families of satyagrahis when he purchased a farm at Lawley for two thousand pounds and handed this to Gandhiji to start a communal farm for the families of resisters. Kallenbach was more than a financial benefactor to Gandhiji; they also shared similar goals. He helped design the buildings and taught the residents how to make sandals and to do carpentry. During the final stage of the campaign in 1913 he was very involved in the great march of workers from northern Natal into the Transvaal and was sentenced to three months in prison in Pretoria.

He was appointed as one of the first trustees of Phoenix Settlement in 1914 a position he held till his death in 1945. As trustee he constantly advised Manilal Gandhi and was responsible for designing Kasturba Bhuvan at Phoenix in 1944. His niece Hanna Lazar also assisted Manilal at Phoenix. Her daughter Dr Isa Sarid lives in Haifa, Israel.

6. Jayashanker Bhaichand Mehta and Javal Mehta

Jayashanker Bhaichand Mehta was born on 27 July 1878. He, like Gandhiji and his family, was one of the passengers on the two ships the Naderi and Courland, which were held up in 1896 by port authorities and unnecessarily quarantined for a length of time due to white racism. He maintained a close relationship with Gandhiji serving as his bookkeeper. He married Javal and they had three sons, the eldest passed away in early childhood, the other two sons were Shantilal and Chimanlal. Though Jayashankar had a home in Durban he often traveled to Phoenix to help Gandhiji and on occasions stayed at Phoenix for prolonged periods in order to help with the press work and with the bookkeeping. He died on 5 August 1931. His elder son Shantilal lived at Phoenix for many years before returning to India and taking up residence there. He married in 1932 and had 5 children, Harshad, Kailas, Padma, Bharat and Rajesh. He together with his family left South Africa in 1945 for health reasons. The children are all residing in India.

The younger son, Chimanlal left for India with his mother in 1911 and only returned to South Africa at Gandhiji's request in around 1926. He married in 1932 and had four children, Leela, Madhuker, Chandra, and Shobhna, all are presently residing in Durban.

7. Virjee Damodar Mehta and Suraj Mehta

He was associated with Indian Opinion from its very founding in 1903 and was one of the Gujarati compositors in the International Printing Press for several years. He also joined Gandhiji as a stretcher bearer in the South African War (1899-1902) and the Bambatha Rebellion of 1906. Ultimately he left Indian Opinion to start his own printing press, which was initially known as Bombay Printing Works and later in 1923 Universal Printing Press. He had seven children, Nautam (passed away), Prabha (passed away), and Sushila (passed away), Dhiraj (presently living in India), Vijya (passed away), Kusum (presently living in London) and the youngest Kantilal (living in Durban). Virjee passed away in 1930.

His eldest son Nautam together with his younger brother Kanti took over the Universal Printing Press. The family retained close links with Phoenix Settlement and often Universal Printing Press would assist in publishing material for Phoenix notably the Special Golden Jubilee Pamphlet in 1954.

The Universal Print Group is a major concern today. The late Nautam Mehta had four children, Manjoo (presently living in India), Pushpa (living in Durban), Chandrakant (living in Durban and is executive director of Corruseal Packaging Industry in Durban), and Urmi (presently living in India). Kanti Mehta married Induben and they have four children, Harish.

Bharat, Yathish and Asha. They all live in Durban. The Mehta family story is one, which shows how the International Printing Press at Phoenix contributed to the proliferation of other printing presses in Durban.

8. Thambi Naidoo and Veeramal Naidoo

Although well known as 'Thambi' he was Govindasamy Kristnasainy Naidoo, born in 1875 in Mauritius. He first came to South Africa in 1889 and settled in Johannesburg in 1892. He was a man of great linguistic abilities and spoke Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and Creole. He became one of the most dynamic and fearless of the satyagrahis in the Transvaal and was instrumental in bringing in large numbers of Tamil speaking residents into the movement. He went to jail over ten times, the longest terms being for six months. Gandhiji declared that the name of Thambi Naidoo must ever remain as one of the front rank in the history of Sataygraha in South Africa'.

He and his wife Veeramal stayed at Tolstoy Farm with several of their children, one being but an infant.

Veeramal became a resister in 1913 when she joined a group of eleven women who crossed into Newcastle to speak to the mine workers and was sentenced to three months in prison.

Thambi and Veeramal had such great faith in Gandhiji that they gave him four of their sons to take with him to India.

These sons joined the group of Phoenix Settlers who left South Africa in 1914. Thambi continued to play an active role in Transvaal politics serving as chairperson of the Tamil Benefit Society and as President of the TIC in the 1930s. He passed away in 1933. Among his descendants were several who went on to play a role in the anti-apartheid struggle - Naransamy (son) Thayanagie (daughter) and grandchildren - Shantie, Indres, Murthie, Ramnie, and Prema.

9. Vincent Lawrence and Josephine Lawrence

He was born in Madras in 1872 and was associated with Gandhiji from the 1890s working with him as a clerk and living with him at Beach Grove Villa in Durban.

He was a member of the Natal Indian Educational Association and of the Natal Indian Congress for many years. In 1901 he married Josephine Gabriel, sister of Brian Gabriel who was one of the photographers for Indian Opinion. Lawrence remained active in Congress politics from the 1920s to 1940s.

In 1951 when Manilal Gandhi went on a fast for 14 days at Phoenix against apartheid, Lawrence was there to read a Christian prayer. Several descendants of the Lawrence family such as Sylvia Lawrence played an important role in the educational and welfare spheres.

A son Dr Ralph Lawrence settled in England as a doctor while a granddaughter Dr Josephine Naidoo is settled in Canada. Grandson David and grand daughter Joan live in Durban.

10. Parsee Rustomjee and Jerbai Rustomjee

Jivanjee Ghorkhodu Rustomjee was eight years Gandhiji's senior. The son of a wealthy Bombay merchant he came to Natal in 1880 when misfortune struck the family and his father died.

He started out working for other traders but by the time Gandhiji arrived in Natal in 1893 Rustomjjee had become one of the wealthiest Indian traders in Durban. He and his wife Jerbaiben and their children Jalbhoy and Sorabjee lived above their warehouse in Field Street and it was here that Gandhiji's family spent their first night in 1896 after Gandhiji was attacked by an angry white mob. Jerbaiben died an early death but Kakajee as he was known became Gandhiji's greatest supporter.

He was an official of the Natal Indian Congress. He provided the material for constructing the press building at Phoenix in 1904. During the satyagraha struggle he endured great hardships in jail losing over 32 kgs in the hard labour conditions in South African prisons.

He was held at Diepkloof, the Fort, Pietermaritzburg and Durban.

He was one of the group from Phoenix to begin the 1913 satyagraha. In prison his sacred garments were confiscated and he was beaten and abused.

He was appointed as one of the first trustees of Phoenix Settlement. He was a philanthropist and benefactor to many welfare organisations - The M.K. Gandhi Library and Parsee Rustomjee Hall continue to serve a useful purpose in central Durban.

His sons Jalbhoy and Sorabjee continued to support Phoenix after their father passed away in 1924. Sorabjee had three children, Dhun, Rustum and Themi. Jalbhoy had three children, Dina, Jer, Edul and Rustom Rustom Jalbhoy Rustomjee became a Trustee of the Phoenix Settlement.

Dr Rustom Sorabjee Rustomjee, and Dr Edulji Jalbhoy Rustomjee both gave regular voluntary service to the Mahatma Gandhi Clinic. Rustom Jalbhoy Rustomjee is survived by his wife. Dr Khorshed Ginwala whose grandparents were also close associates of Gandhiji and who facilitated the work of medical students of the now Nelson Mandela School of Medicine, at the Mahatma Gandhi Clinic.

Rustum Sorabjee Rustomjee is survived by his wife Nancy. Dhun Sorabjee Rustomjee, and Themi Sorabjee Rusomjee are the sole surviving grandchildren.

11. Harilal Thakar and Dhiwaliben Thakar

Harilal was born in Latipur in Sourashtra in 1895 and was the son of Ambaram Mangaljee Thaker who came to Natal in the 1890s to assist Gandhiji. Harilal came to Durban in 1909 after finishing his schooling in India and lived with his father who was a priest at the Depot Road Temple.

They regularly went to Phoenix and participated in the inter-faith prayers there. Harilal is listed as one of the helpers in the press and he continued to do this after Gandhiji left South Africa in 1914. He later worked as a Gujarati teacher before starting his own business. He had one son, Shankarlal from his first wife Kasturben. He later married Dhiwaliben after Kasturben passed away and had another son Natwarlal. Harilal passed away in Durban in 1982 aged 88. Dhiwaliben played an important role in the women's organisation and worked closely with Sushila Gandhi until she passed away. Their son Dr Thakar gave voluntary services regularly at the Mahatma Gandhi Clinic.

Click herefor the list of other early Settlers and Associates of Phoenix Settlement (1904-1914)

Commemorating the Centenary of Phoenix Settlement 1904-2004