SOUTH African President Cyril Ramaphosa led nearly 5,000 people at the annual 'Gandhi Walk' in Lenasia, an Indian township south of Johannesburg, seeking to promote community awareness and fitness among his countrymen.
This was the first time that a sitting head of the state joined the walk, now in its 33rd consecutive edition, Gandhi Walk Committee chairman Amit Parbhucharan said.
The theme of the walk was "Going Green", with a strong focus on environmental initiatives and promoting community awareness.
Ramaphosa was yesterday joined by India's High Commissioner to South Africa, Ruchira Kamboj, American civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson, popular Gandhi look-alike Harshvardhan Pitambar, and a host of other dignitaries to kick off the 12 km walk.
"Thank you for inviting me and making me part of this great and wonderful Gandhi Walk, and especially with the man himself standing here right next to me Mahatma Gandhi," Ramaphosa told the cheering crowd as he pointed to Pitambar, who looked the spitting image of Gandhi in his dhoti, complete with bald head, round glasses and a walking stick.
Ramaphosa, a keen walker for health reasons, earlier said he was looking forward to his participation in the Gandhi Walk.
"The President subscribes to the values that the Gandhi Walk represents of creating community awareness and ensuring that we all take part in our nation-building project.
"But also, most importantly, promoting healthy lifestyles and ensuring that our communities are able to come together in a fun way," said his spokesman Khusela Diko in a statement from the Presidency.
"Although we have had a wide range of celebrities and leaders over the years, and the blessings of previous heads of state, including the legendary Madiba (Nelson Mandela), we are elated that for the first time a head of state joined the actual Walk," Gandhi Walk Committee chairman Parbhucharan said.
The walk was first started as a small fundraiser to complete the Gandhi Hall in Lenasia, which has since become a major venue for all community events.
The hall was built after the original Gandhi Hall in central Johannesburg, where Mahatma Gandhi held many meetings with the local community as he mobilised them to resist discriminatory laws during his tenure in South Africa, was demolished when the Indian community was forcibly resettled in Lenasia by the white-minority apartheid government laws.
Proceeds from the walk since the completion of the hall some years ago are now shared between a range of community welfare organisations.
Although scores of professional athletes from across the country and even abroad joined the walk, it was billed more as a family fun day, with senior citizens, parents pushing babies in prams, and even people in wheelchairs joining one of the two events - a 6km and a 12km walk.
The walk was followed by a full day of entertainment, as well as stalls offering facilities such as free health checks.