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GANDHI'S SOUTH AFRICA CENTER SUCCUMBS TO RUINS, SQUATTERS

A farm settlement that is part of Mahatma Gandhi's legacy to South Africa, where he launched his lifelong struggle against oppression, lies in ruins.

A race riot in 1985 destroyed the Phoenix settlement where Gandhi developed the non-violent resistance tactics that later helped topple British rule in India.The buildings that Gandhi made his headquarters during his 21-year battle on behalf of South Africa's Indian minority are shells surrounded by illegal squatter shacks.

The trustees hope to rebuild them one day but cannot do so while the land is occupied by the squatters.

Yet they will not press to uproot black people who have become desperate for homes near work under apartheid laws that restrict their urban living space.

"We are not going to act as the state's agent in removing these people unless the state provides alternative housing," said social worker Ela Ramgobin, Gandhi's granddaughter.

So prospects for restoring Phoenix are bleak.

Gandhi, who arrived in South Africa in 1893 as a young lawyer, founded the farm near Durban in 1904 to enable staff of his Indian Opinion newspaper to grow their own food and live what he called "a more simple and natural life."

After he returned to India in 1914 to oppose British rule, his son Manilal, Ela's father, kept the settlement going.

After 1961, the settlement ran a clinic. It had a school, a library and a museum of memorabilia in Gandhi's house.

Gradually it evolved into a center used by people of all races who opposed apartheid, for conferences and discussions on tactics. Prominent figures who visited Phoenix included black consciousness leader Steve Biko, who died in police custody in 1977.