The freedom bond- Mandela and Gandhi

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18th July 2021- International Nelson Mandela Day

By M Ahmad

Born on July 18, 1918 Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela emerged from 27 years in prison to lead South Africa to freedom from white rule and became the country’s first black president who went on to win the Nobel Peace prize for his policy of reconciliation. Mandela acted as the 19th Secretary General of NAM from September 1998 to June 1999.

Nelson Mandela was a practitioner of Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence and referred to Gandhi as his role model. He was inspired by Gandhi to lead South Africa to independence and was sometimes referred to as the ‘Gandhi of South Africa’. While Mandela and Gandhi never met, both were linked by a passion to end oppression and take out their countries from the colonizing rulers. Gandhi’s philosophy and approach left an indelible mark on Mandela and it shaped his journey of freedom struggle in South Africa. Though, we cannot really compare Mandela and Gandhiji, but both emphasized on moral power, both were lawyers who spent time in jail in Johannesburg’s Old Fort prison (Gandhi in 1906 and Mandela in 1962) and both were staunch believers of non-violence. Mandela and Gandhi shared the conviction that all suppressed people, whatever their religion, ethnicity or caste, must stand together against their oppressors.

It is an interesting coincidence that these two most prominent and inspirational world leaders had a connection with South Africa. Mahatma Gandhi’s journey to becoming a Mahatma (or great soul) began in South Africa and saw him being transformed from an ordinary subject of the British Empire to a charismatic leader of the largely peaceful, nonviolent Indian independence movement. Through his philosophy and convictions, Gandhi challenged the legitimacy of the British rule in India eventually leading to hand over of political control to the Indians and in South Africa by the apartheid regime, following largely non-violent, non-cooperation protests.

Mandela was more a symbol of unity rather than of non-violence. Mandela studied Gandhi’s methods of non-violent resistance in college and was expelled for participating in a non-violent student protest movement and may have been disillusioned with the idea of non-violence. While he believed in non violence, he however was of the view that it was not possible to be non-violent when the apartheid government responded with force and violence, especially as in his words ‘the government had left us with no other choice.’ This marked his move from passive to armed resistance.

Gandhi was of the view that only non-violent protest could transform the minds of the oppressors. At the same time, Gandhi did not abjure violence all together and said where the choice is between cowardice and violence, he would advise the use of violence. Mandela considered Gandhi as one of his teachers and said that he called for non-violent protest for as long as these were efficient.

Mandela led a peaceful campaign after release from prison with emphasis on reconciliation and a unique approach of forgiving the enemy and learned the essential virtues of forgiveness and compassion from Gandhi and also adopted these after he assumed power as the first President of apartheid-free South Africa from 10th May 1994 till June 1999. He created an inclusive government of national unity, in which, F W de Clerk, the last apartheid-era president, became the deputy president, making South Africa a multi-ethnic and multiracial, inclusive country .

Mandela shared a strong connection with Gandhi and India and stressed that in a world driven by strife, Gandhi’s message of peace and non-violence held the key to human survival in the 21st century.

 “It is easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build.” – Nelson Mandela

(The writer is principal (I/C) Abhedananda Home-Higher Secondary Institution for Specially-abled Children, Solina, Srinagar, Kashmir  email: [email protected])

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