K M Chandrasekhar
K M Chandrasekhar

Gandhi and Mandela

K.M. Chandrasekhar

K.M. Chandrasekhar

India locks horns once again with South Africa in cricket for the Gandhi- Mandela trophy. The last time, in South Africa, on pitches conducive to pace, seam and swing, India lost the trophy to South Africa, but came back strongly to win the last test match and then virtually swept them off the field in the one day series that followed. Both the teams were disappointed with the outcome of their performances in the World Cup, India because they did exceptionally well at the league stage but lost the first knockout match they played in the semifinal; South Africa because they seemed off-colour in almost all matches at the league stage and never qualified for the semifinals. In the exchanges until now in India, we have held the upper hand. But cricket is a funny game. One period of play or one gritty performance can swing fortunes around.

Whoever ultimately prevails, the relationship is a tribute to the struggle that both nations waged and the steadfast support that independent India gave to South Africa’s long and painful fight. The first international cricket matches that South Africa played after they emerged as a free country were against India, and that too in India. The South Africans were given a resounding welcome in Calcutta. After the November 1991 match at the Eden Gardens seen by 90,800 spectators, their captain, Clive Rice,said, “ I know how Neil Armstrong felt when he stood on the moon”, words that are forever inscribed in the annals of world cricket.

Gandhi and Mandela belonged to two different generations but each brought freedom to his country. Gandhi, with his patient, non-violent ways gave India freedom from a colonial power. Mandela freed South Africa from a repressive regime predicated on racial superiority. There were many ways in which they resembled one another in their pursuit of freedom, but there were ways in which they differed too. Both overcame opposition from their own camps, both lived fighting for their cause. The duo, along with Martin Luther King in the US, left behind a creed which epitomised freedom in thinking, unity in diversity and graciousness in victory.

Pietermaritzburg in Natal in South Africa had a unique significance both for Gandhi and Mandela. In June 1893, young Gandhi was thrown out of a Whites Only compartment to the railway platform in Pietermaritzburg. This created in him the resolve to stay on in South Africa and to fight racism through the weapons he forged, non-violent resistance and Satyagraha, instruments that the Indian National Congress used later with such success in the fight to free India. It was at Howick in the north of Pietermaritzburg that Nelson Mandela was arrested in 1962, which led to his incarceration for 27 long years. On 25th April 1997, while conferring the Freedom of Pietermaritzburg to Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, President of the Republic of South Africa, said, “Gandhi’s magnificent example of personal sacrifice and dedication in the face of oppression, was one of his many legacies to our country and to the world. He showed us that it was necessary to brave imprisonment if truth and justice were to triumph over evil. The values of tolerance, mutual respect and unity for which he stood and acted had a profound influence on our liberation movement, and on my own thinking. They inspire us today in our efforts of reconciliation and nation-building.”

The principles of non- violent agitation had struck deep roots in the Indian community in South Africa. In 1946, the apartheid regime curtailed the movement of Indians, earmarked areas in which they could reside and trade, and restricted their right to buy property through the Asiatic Land Tenure Act, popularly known as the Ghetto Act. The Indians, led by Dr. Dadoo and Dr.G. M. Naicker, started a campaign of passive resistance. Mandela and his Youth League in the African National Congress were greatly impressed. As he writes in his autobiography, “The Long Walk to Freedom”, “Housewives, priests, doctors, lawyers, traders, students and workers took their place in the front lines of the protest. For two years, people suspended their lives to take up the battle.” The movement was eventually crushed but it taught a lesson to Mandela that the Indian people had registered “an extraordinary protest against colour oppression in a way that the Africans and the ANC had not.” He goes on to say, “They reminded us that the freedom struggle was not merely a question of making speeches, passing resolutions and sending deputations, but of meticulous organisation, militant mass action and, above all, the willingness to suffer and sacrifice.” In the ANC’s annual conference of 1949, the Youth League presented a positive Programme of Action, which won the day despite the opposition of their then president, Dr. Xuma.

Mandela’s commitment to non-violence as the sole instrument for the fight for freedom, however, waned over time. In 1952, at a joint meeting of the ANC and South African Indians in Port Elizabeth, Manilal Gandhi pleaded intensely for completely non- violent means of resistance. The ANC was not convinced and Mandela was not persuaded. “I saw non-violence on the Gandhian model not as an inviolable principle”, he said, “but as a tactic to be used as the situation demanded….I called for non-violent protest for as long as it was effective.” He expatiated on this theme still further in 1953 at a Sunday evening meeting at Freedom Square in Sophia town India, he said, was dealing with a foreign power that was “more realistic and farsighted.” The Afrikaaners were different and needed to be dealt with in another way, if necessary. Indeed, the South African fight for freedom saw much violence, particularly in the last stages and this as much as international ostracisation, saw the end of racism and repression in that country.

For Gandhi, the means were as important as the end. He believed totally in ahimsa and opposed strongly any violence in action. “A principle is a principle,” said Gandhi, “and in no case can it be watered down because of our incapacity to live it in practice. We have to strive to achieve it, and the striving should be conscious, deliberate and hard.” There can be no better example of his commitment to non-violence than the Chauri Chaura incident in February 1922. Two years earlier, at the Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress, he had convinced his coworkers to start a non-cooperation movement. This aroused great enthusiasm among Congressmen everywhere and hundreds of them willingly participated and were imprisoned. But at Chauri Chaura in the United Provinces, protesters were fired at by the police. In retaliation, protesters set fire to a police station, killing 22 policemen and three civilians. A week later, Gandhi called off the Non-Cooperation Movement and the fight for freedom went into hibernation for years thereafter. Even Jawaharlal Nehru thought that Gandhi’s move was a retrograde measure. Non-violence was, however, the cardinal principle defining Gandhi’s life and thought process and he was not prepared to compromise on this at any cost.

Both Gandhi and Mandela had unswerving faith in the unity of all humanity, regardless of differences in race, religion, community or any other dividing factor. On the continuing differences between Muslims and Hindus in the Indian subcontinent, he said, “I am striving to become the best cement between the two communities. My longing is to be able to cement the two with my blood, if necessary.” Gandhi wanted a united India and the idea of partition was abhorrent to him. TN Kaul, in his book ““My Years through Raj to Swaraj”, says, ““Gandhiji would perhaps have agreed to postpone independence by a few years to save a united India…”

Mandela spoke similar language and carried it into practice too. After the struggle was over and the first democratic election had been held in 1994, he said, “From the moment the results were in and it was apparent that the ANC was to form the government, I saw my mission as one of preaching reconciliation, of binding the wounds of the country, of engendering trust and confidence….I reminded people again and again that the liberation struggle was not a battle against any group or colour, but a fight against repression. At every opportunity, I said all Africans must now unite and join hands and say we are one country, one nation, one people marching together into the future.” South Africa therefore remains a united nation and the wounds inflicted by apartheid are no more visible.

The Gandhi- Mandela trophy represents more than cricket. It represents a world view, which is relevant to both countries even today. It represents the leadership provided by two great men who taught their countrymen that oppression of any kind anywhere can be fought only by fearless people, willing to suffer and sacrifice for a greater cause. The task of nation building is painful and laborious. So is the task of creating understanding between nations. Only great minds can bring peoples together in happy harmony.


The facts and views expressed in the article are those of the writer.