Johannesburg: A controversy has erupted in South Africa over a proposed housing development project at a hospital site where Mahatma Gandhi worked as a volunteer during the outbreak of plague a century ago.
The plan includes the demolition of the Rietfontein Hospital, where Gandhi worked as a volunteer during his stay here, nursing patients and petitioning the city`s medical officer on a number of occasions.
"Gandhi`s role in the identification of the outbreak of the plague in Johannesburg as well as the fact that had it not been for his quick intervention in isolating the victims and bringing it to the attention of the authorities at the time, would have seen the spread being absolutely catastrophic," community activist Lynn van der Schyff said.
"This was as a result of the apartheid regulations in place at the time. Gandhi was instrumental in getting many of these Indian people to be treated at Rietfontein Hospital and worked closely with the authorities," he said.
Historians and neighbourhood residents too have expressed outrage over the said redevelopment claiming they say will be sited over the graves of thousands of people who died of bubonic plague and other highly infectious diseases.
However, the developers allay these apprehensions.
Acting on behalf of the Gauteng provincial government that wants to alleviate the huge housing shortage, they said a team of specialists including microbiologists, pathologists, ecologists, geohydrologists and historians had independently determined that there was no risk of disease being spread, even in the unlikely event of graves being uncovered during the process.
The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation which promotes non-racialism said it should be noted that the project aimed to provide housing for the poor and if all the necessary procedures had been followed, this could greatly assist those in need.
"I am sure that the Mahatma would give precedence to overcoming the legacy of the apartheid-era legislation that created separate residential areas based on race far from the city and the necessity to have the poor living closer to areas where work opportunities might exist," Executive Director of the Foundation Neeshan Balton said.