Over 3 000 Malawians have signed a petition to stop Blantyre City Council (BCC) and the Indian Government from erecting a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, an Indian activist, at Ginnery Corner in Blantyre.
The immortalisation of Gandhi, who never set foot in Malawi, faces continued protests as the group that has set the petition threatens to hold protests if the city will not listen to the call to stop the construction.
Gandhi, a globally revered civil right activist, was born in India in 1869 and died in 1948, but literature published after his death has depicted him as a racist.
In an interview on Tuesday, India High Commissioner Suresh Kumar Menon said what his government intends to erect along Mahatma Ghandi Road at Ginnery Corner in Blantyre is not a statue but rather a bust of the fallen leader.
A statue is a figure of a person or an animal in stone or metal that is usually the same size as in real life or larger, while a bust is a stone or metal model of a person’s head, shoulders and chest, according to the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary.
In an e-mail response, a member of the group protesting the project, Mpambira Aubrey Kambewa, who is also one of the five Malawians behind the petition, said for the moment they are creating awareness on why the group was against the erection of Gandhi’s statue and why every Malawian should be concerned.
He said: “We want the city council to take action and halt all work on the statue immediately. We will keep on exuding pressure and keep our doors open for dialogue with anyone as long as there is no further progress on the statue erection and until the matter is resolved amicably.”
In the 1 300 word petition titled ‘Stop Erecting Racist Mahatma Gandhi’s Statue at Ginnery Corner’, the group states that as citizens of Malawi born out of black African descent, they were appalled with Blantyre City Council’s decision to erect Gandhi’s statue in Blantyre.
Reads the petition in part: “When it comes to Gandhi, we cannot deny that he is of historical importance to India and to the world as a symbol of activism. However, Gandhi has a questionable background and character for Malawi to honour him with a statue.”
It says from the early 1900s when Gandhi was in South Africa, he was said to have rejected the colonialist structure that placed Indians and black Africans in the same class bracket.
The group cites Ghana and South Africa as some countries where Gandhi statues were removed.
“We then wonder why the Mayor and the Blantyre City Council approved the erection of Gandhi’s statue when he is being rebuked by other Africans due to his racist past,” reads the petition.
Kambewa said the group will not relent until they see the matter to its logical end.
But Menon said while the India Government is aware that people are against the erection of Mahatma Gandhi’s bust, they will wait for advice from government.
The envoy said India responded to BCC proposal to help in beautifying some parts of Blantyre city, hence the erection of Gandhi’s bust has no connection to India Government projects in Malawi.
He said India Government intended to develop a small park with a solar lamp since the place was always in the dark, saying the Gandhi bust was suggested because the park was placed at the corner between Mahatma Gandhi Road, and Masauko Chipembere Highway.
On his part, BCC spokesperson Anthony Kasunda said the Gandhi issue was an agreement between the governments of Malawi and India.
“This is a government to government agreement. As you know, the Indian and Malawi governments are in partnership and they are going to build a conference centre here in Blantyre. If you look at the HD pictures of the structure, it is just amazing,” he said.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesperson Rejoice Shumba asked for more time to respond to a questionnaire sent to the ministry on the issue.
Meanwhile, construction at the site was continuing as of on Tuesday.