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Does The Spirit Of Gandhi Live On In South Africa?

By Ela Gandhi

In every age, in every country there are always those who have walked the extra mile, who have made an extraordinary commitment and who have lived an exemplary life.  There are and have been many in South Africa who dedicated their lives to the struggle for freedom in South Africa and continue to carry the highest values and principles with them.  Their contribution to our country will no doubt serve to inspire the new generation, as does Gandhiji’s life. 

In South Africa there are many who continue to arouse admiration and awe because of the work they do and the lives they lead.  These are quiet workers who run Non Governmental Organizations providing invaluable service to the cause of women, children, the physically impaired, the elderly, the environment, animals and other vulnerable groups.  The contribution of such quiet workers to the well being of our society continues to nurture in many ways the spirit of Gandhiji.  Among them are people such as Dr. Rambharos who runs the Aryan Benevolent Home for the elderly, the infirm and children, and Dr. Imtiaz Suleman who runs the Gift of the Giver’s Foundation providing emergency services to millions. 

There are also active efforts to keep the historic significance of Gandhiji alive in the country and internationally.  Among the many organizations that are directly linked to Gandhiji are those that have been entrusted with the responsibility of administering land which was bequeathed by Gandhiji to the community and others who run projects of awareness through organizing annual events such as Gandhi Walks, Gandhi Jayanti (birth anniversary) or educational and materials development projects.  Among these myriad organizations are some that have been undertaken in the past decade by a group of individuals who felt that there was a need to preserve, record and disseminate the historic legacy of Gandhiji in South Africa. 

In the exploration undertaken by this group many important needs were surfaced, such as the need to steer the course of transformation in South Africa in terms of community empowerment, self-help, nation building and cultivation of values of nonviolence.  Accordingly, a monthly newspaper, Satyagraha – In Pursuit of Truth, was started in August 2000 to take this vision forward.  It is not-for-profit enterprise, which is evolving and growing within a carefully worked out policy framework.  In addition to running a newspaper, Satyagraha also develops materials to advance the understanding of the Gandhian legacy.  These materials are distributed in schools, community and youth organizations, and through interaction with various media. 

In 2002, the Gandhi Development Trust was set up to administer a fund bequeathed in the name of Gandhiji, and to take forward Gandhian values.  The Gandhi Development Trust was registered with three Trustees.  In the first year, grants were made to selected community organizations.  An annual Gandhi Lecture was launched with Dr. Vandana Shiva as the first speaker.  In the following year, to mark the centenary of the first Gandhian newspaper, the Indian Opinion, awards were given to leading journalists who braved the repressive apartheid government and continued their sterling efforts to keep the public informed. 

During 2003, in collaboration with the M K Gandhi institute for Nonviolence in USA, the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation in Mumbai and the Gandhi Development Trust in South Africa, a Mahatma Gandhi Award for Reconciliation and Peace was set up and presented to President Mbeki for his outstanding work in bringing peace in Africa through multilateral efforts.  Thereafter annually an award is presented to personalities from around the world who have made exceptional contribution to the promotion of peace. 

In September 2004, the Trust hosted an exhibition in conjunction with a number of other organizations, on the legacy of nonviolence.  This exhibition depicted a number of peace builders: Gandhiji, Martin Luther King and Daisaku Ikeda of Japan, among others.  There were seven panels made in South Africa to depict South African heroes of the struggle.  This exhibition was seen by approximately 10 000 people, including many school pupils in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town.  During this time panel discussions on key issues were held in order to deepen the knowledge about these icons of peace. 

The Gandhi Development Trust (GDT) commemorated the centenary of Phoenix Settlement, the very first Ashram started by Gandiji in South Africa and where his transformation occurred.  In 2004 GDT identified 11 families of Pioneer Settlers and Associates of Mahatma Gandhi between 1904-1914 and presented them with an award in recognition of the dedication shown by these pioneering families.  A booklet on the origin of Phoenix Settlement was also published. 

In 2005, on the 75th anniversary of the Salt March of Dandi, India, the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Charter of South Africa, the Gandhi Development Trust set up a committee to organize a commemorative march in South Africa from Phoenix Settlement to Battery Beach, which is a 22 km. walk. 

In keeping with clause 10 of the Freedom Charter, South Africa’s role as peace maker, and peace keeper was promoted by the local military whose band led the walk at the beginning and again at the end.  Colonel Kobie, who was in charge of the Durban base, joined the walk with several other officers.  The Hon. Deputy Mayor Councilor Logie Naidoo also walked all of the 22 km, and the Consul General of India joined the walk for part of the way.  In an emotionally charged moment, after the walk, a shrine commemorating Gandhian ideals was unveiled in the base and Gandhiji’s favourite hymns were sung by members of the Defence Force. 

This year, 2007, Mr. Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Consul General of India, walked all of the 22 km.  There was a wonderful spirit among the walkers, which included mothers pushing babies in prams, children walking barefoot.  Young and old showed an enthusiasm seldom seen.  This has now become an annual event, which is growing in stature. 

In 2006, to mark the Centenary of Satyagraha, a three-day conference was held.  There were 311 delegates from 107 organizations and from 14 countries.  The aim of the conference was: 

  1. Analyse causes of conflict and violence; 

  2. Begin to broaden conversation around Satyagraha; 

  3. Examine how to improve the impact of the peace movement and 

  4. Examine the possibility of setting up a Centre for Nonviolence in South Africa. 

The key points emerging from the conference were: 

  1. Introduction of “value-based education”, integrating non-violence and Satyagraha principles into school curriculum; 

  2. Work with educators to find new and non-violent ways of managing children; 

  3. Use Satyagraha strategies to respond to globalization and international economic exploitation; 

  4. There is a growing need for spiritual transformation both at personal and social levels by promoting interfaith cordiality and respect, and creating value-driven programmes for children, youths and adults; 

  5. An independent print and electronic media plays a very critical role in fighting injustice; 

  6. There is definite need to address issues of patriarchy and gender.  Despite progress made on this front during the last few years, lot more needs to be done;, and 

  7. In the light of the above, there is a need to launch satyagraha movement to set things right.

Arising from the above conclusions, it was felt that an organizational vehicle should be created to drive these issues not just in South Africa but internationally.  As a result, the International Centre for Nonviolence (ICON) has been set up at the Durban University of Technology, and its key tasks are to develop curricula, both for schools and secondary and tertiary education, incorporating nonviolence, peace and gender issues, and organize training in nonviolence focusing on conflict resolution at individual, group and territorial levels.  The Centre would also have an international outreach programme of collaboration with other institutions doing similar work. 

For the purpose of research, all the materials gathered by Satyagraha will be housed in a Knowledge Centre, under the supervision of Satyagraha.  This will also be a repository for archival material of a historic nature. 

It is clear from all the efforts described above that the Spirit of Gandhiji and others who walked in his footsteps lives on and will continue to exert its influence on South African society and help create strong ties between India and South Africa. 

Source: Anasakti Darshan Vol. 3, No. 2, July-December 2007

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