The incident occurred yesterday when the group came in a car at about noon and threw buckets of white paint on the statue and surrounding plaques detailing Gandhi’s history in South Africa, security guard Ntandzo Khwepe said.
They were bearing placards reading: ‘Racist Gandhi must fall’. The statue in the centre of the city is believed to be the only one in the world showing Gandhi as a young lawyer in his court robes.
The statue is on a public transport hub square which was renamed Gandhi Square because the offices in which he practiced law during his stay in the city is on the periphery of the square.
“They said we should not stop them because Gandhi was a racist man,” Khwepe said, adding that the group was wearing African National Congress (ANC) regalia.
Khwepe said one man was nabbed as the group tried to flee, but he remained nonchalant about it, claiming that his political bosses would soon get him free.
Police spokesman Kay Makhubela said he would be charged with malicious damage to property. The incident occurred on the same day Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled a statue of the iconic leader, who is widely revered across the globe, in Germany.
ANC spokesman Keith Khoza condemned the incident and denied the ruling party’s involvement, saying that they could have been posing as ANC members to discredit the party.
The ANC has been prominent in ensuring the survival of Gandhi’s heritage in South Africa. Gandhi arrived in South Africa in 1893. He moved to Johannesburg in 1903 and stayed there till 1914. Gandhi spent the early stage of his stay in Johannesburg with establishing his legal firm. From 1906 Gandhi became actively involved in politics; this helped formulate his ideas on passive resistance.
Since the first democratic elections in 1994, a number of statues of Gandhi have been erected across South Africa. One is at the railway station in Pietermaritzburg, where he was kicked off a train compartment reserved for whites, prompting the start of his Satyagraha movement in South Africa and later in India.
A bust of Gandhi and a permanent exhibition on his time in South Africa was unveiled by then President Pratibha Patil at Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg, the seat of the country s highest court.
In recent months, there has been an outcry from some Black youth groups about Gandhi having been racist because he had allegedly used the derogatory term for indigenous Blacks, kaffir, in his writings.
But veteran South African Indian politician Essop Pahad told a recent conference on Gandhi that he was writing on his early perceptions of the environment he found himself in when he arrived in the country from India as a young lawyer.