What Nelson Mandela wrote about Mahatma Gandhi
Stabroek News
November 27, 2001

Dear Editor,

My response to Mr. A. A. Fenty's critique [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] of Mahatma Gandhi (SN, 10/19/01) will come later. First, however, it would be instructive to hear another perspective, one provided by former President Nelson Mandela, arguably mother Africa's greatest son of all times. His critique and appreciation of the Mahatma, entitled "The Sacred Warrior" appeared in Time Magazine, December 31, 1999. He writes:

"India is Gandhi's country of birth; South Africa his country of adoption. He was both an Indian and a South African citizen. Both countries contributed to his intellectual and moral genius, and he shaped the liberatory movements in both theatres.

He is the archetypal anti- colonial revolutionary. His strategy of non-co-operation, his assertion that we can be dominated only if we co-operate with our dominators, and his non-violent resistance inspired anti-colonial and antiracist movements internationally in our century.

Both Gandhi and I suffered colonial oppression, and both of us mobilised our respective peoples against governments that violated our freedoms.

The Gandhian influence dominated freedom struggles on the African continent right up to the 1960s because of the power it generated and the unity it forged among the apparently powerless. Non-violence was the official stance of all major African coalitions, and the South African ANC remained implacably opposed to violence for most of its existence.

Gandhi remained committed to non-violence; I followed the Gandhian strategy for as long as I could, but then there came a point in our struggle when the brute force of the oppressor could no longer be countered through passive resistance alone. We founded Unkhonto we Sizwe and added a military dimension to our struggle. Even then, we chose sabotage because it did not involve the loss of life, and it offered the best hope for future race relations.

Militant action became part of the African agenda officially supported by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) following my address to the Pan-African Freedom Movement of East and Central Africa (PAFMECA) in 1962, in which I stated, "Force is the only language the imperialists can hear, and no country became free without some sort of violence."

Gandhi himself never ruled out violence absolutely and unreservedly. He conceded the necessity of arms in some situations. He said, "Where choice is set between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence ... I prefer to use arms in defence of honour rather than remain the vile witness of dishonour..." Violence and non-violence are not mutually exclusive; it is the predominance of the one or the other that labels a struggle.

Gandhi arrived in South Africa in 1893 at the age of 23. Within a week he collided head on with racism. His immediate response was to flee the country that so degraded people of colour, but then his inner resilience overpowered him with a sense of mission, and he stayed to redeem the dignity of the racially exploited, to pave the way for the liberation of the colonised the world over and to develop a blue-print for a new social order.

He left 21 years later, a near maha atma (great soul). There is no doubt in my mind that by the time he was violently removed from our world, he had transited into that state.

He was no ordinary leader. There are those who believe he was divinely inspired and it is difficult not to believe with them. He dared to exhort non-violence in a time when the violence of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had exploded on us; he exhorted morality when science, technology and the capitalist order had made it redundant; he replaced self interest with group interest without minimising the importance of self. In fact, the interdependence of the social and the personal is at the heart of his philosophy. He seeks the interactive development of the moral person and the moral society.

His philosophy of Satyagraha is both a personal and a social struggle to realise the Truth, which he identifies as God, the Absolute Morality. He seeks his Truth, not in isolation, self-centredly, but with the people.

He said, "I want to find God, and because I want to find God, I have to find God along with other people. I do not believe I can find God alone. If I did, I would be running to the Himalayas to find God in some cave there. But since I believe that nobody can find God alone, I have to work with people. I have to take them with me. Alone I can't come to him." He balances the religious and the secular.

His awakening came on the hilly terrain of the so-called Bambata Rebellion, where as a passionate British patriot, he led his Indian stretcher corps to serve the Empire, but the British brutality against the Zulu roused his soul against violence as nothing had done before. He determined, on that battlefield, to wrest himself of all material attachments and devote himself completely and totally to the elimination of violence and serving humanity.

The sight of wounded and whipped Zulus, mercilessly abandoned by their British persecutors, so appalled him that he turned full circle from his admiration of all things British to celebrating the indigenous and ethnic. He resuscitated the culture of the colonised and the fullness of Indian resistance against the British; he revived Indian handicrafts and made these into an economic weapon against the coloniser in his call for swadeshi-the use of one's own and the boycott of the oppressor's products, which deprive people of their skill and capital.

A great measure of world poverty today and African poverty in particular is due to the continuing dependence on foreign markets for manufactured goods, which undermines domestic production and dams up domestic skills, apart from piling unmanageable foreign debts. Gandhi's insistence on self-sufficiency is a basic economic principle that, if allowed today, could contribute significantly to alleviating Third World poverty and stimulating development.

Gandhi predated Franz Fanon and the black consciousness movements in South Africa and the US by more than a half-century, and inspired the resurgence of the indigenous intellect, spirit and industry. Gandhi rejected the Adam Smith notion of human society as motivated by self-interest and brute needs and returns us to our spiritual dimension with its impulses for non-violence, justice and equality.

He exposes the fallacy that everyone can be rich and successful providing they worked hard. He points to the millions who work themselves to the bone and still remain hungry. He preaches the gospel of levelling down, of emulating the kisan (peasant), and not the zamindar (landlord), for "all can be kisans, but only a few zamindars." He stepped from his comfortable life to join the masses on their level to seek equality with them. "I cannot hope to bring about equality...I have to reduce myself to the level of the poorest of the poor."

From his understanding of wealth and poverty came his understanding of labour and capital, which led him to the solution of trusteeship based on the belief that there is no private ownership of capital; it is given in trust for redistribution and equalisation. Similarly while recognising the differential aptitudes and talents, he holds that these are gifts from God to be used for the collective good.

He seeks an economic order alternative to the capitalist and the communist, and finds this in sarvodaya, the well being of all based on non-violence (ahimsa). He rejects Darwin's survival of the fittest, Adam Smith's laissez-faire and Karl Marx's thesis of a natural antagonism between capital and labour, and focuses on the interdependence between the two. He believes in the human capacity to change and wages Satyagraha against the oppressor, not to destroy him but to transform him, that he ceases his oppression and join the oppressed in the pursuit of Truth.

We in South Africa brought about our new democracy relatively peacefully on the foundations of such thinking, regardless whether we were directly influenced by Gandhi or not.

Gandhi remains today the only complete critique of advanced industrial society. Others have criticised its totalitarianism but not its productive apparatus. He is not against science and technology, but he places priority on the right to work and opposes mechanisation to the extent that it usurps this right. Large-scale mechanisation, he holds, concentrates wealth in the hands of one man who tyrannises the rest. He favours the small machine; he seeks to keep the individual in control of his tools, to maintain an interdependent love relationship between the two, as a cricketer with his bat or Krishna with his flute. Above all he seeks to liberate the individual from his alienation to the machine and restore morality to the productive process.

As we find ourselves in jobless economies, societies in which small minorities consume while the masses starve, we find ourselves forced to rethink the rationale of our current globalisation and to ponder the Gandhian alternative.

At a time when Freud was liberating sex, Gandhi was reining it in; when Marx was pitting worker against capitalist, Gandhi was reconciling them; when the dominant European thought had dropped God and soul out of social reckoning, he was centralising society on God and soul; at a time when the colonised had ceased to think and control, he dared to think and control; and when the ideologies of the colonised had virtually disappeared, he revived them and empowered them with a potency that liberated and redeemed.

Yours faithfully,

Swami Aksharananda