Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi boarded a train Saturday in South Africa to commemorate a historic 19th-century confrontation that led independence icon Mahatma Gandhi to formulate his renowned policy of nonviolent disobedience.
Modi, on a four-nation African tour aimed at strengthening economic ties with the continent, traveled to the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, the home of most of South Africa's 1.3 million people of Indian origin.
Gandhi was removed in 1893 from a train in the provincial capital, Pietermaritzburg, because of his race, after refusing to leave a first-class carriage. He later described the event as an insult that led him to resist racial segregation and other injustices both in South Africa and later in British India.
Modi told a large diaspora gathering in Johannesburg on Friday that Gandhi had "conceptualized" his politics of resistance in South Africa. He called the country "the birthplace of Satyagraha" — the policy of nonviolent struggle that led to India's independence from British rule in 1947.
Both Modi and South African President Jacob Zuma paid tribute Friday to what Zuma called "two liberation icons": Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, who was elected South Africa's first black president in 1994.
The Indian leader's itinerary, including visits to Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya, has been billed as a mission to raise India's economic profile in Africa, where China has had an increasingly dominant role in trade.
China says its trade with Africa has grown tenfold in the past decade, approaching $300 billion last year.