The sacred warrior
The liberator of South Africa looks at the seminal work of the
liberator of India
By Nelson Mandela
December 27, 1999
Web posted at: 12:40 p.m. EST (1740 GMT)
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 colonial theaters.
He is the archetypal anticolonial revolutionary. His strategy of
noncooperation, his assertion that we can be dominated only if we
cooperate with our dominators, and his nonviolent resistance
inspired anticolonial and antiracist movements internationally in
Both Gandhi and I suffered colonial oppression, and both of us
mobilized 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.
Nonviolence was the official stance of all major African
coalitions, and the South African A.N.C. remained implacably
opposed to violence for most of its existence.
Gandhi remained committed to nonviolence; 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 Organization of African Unity (O.A.U.) 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 certain
situations. He said, "Where choice is set between cowardice and
violence, I would advise violence... I prefer to use arms in
defense of honor rather than remain the vile witness of dishonor
Violence and nonviolence 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 color, 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 colonized the world over
and to develop a blueprint 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.
No ordinary leader--divinely inspired
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 nonviolence 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
minimizing the importance of self. In fact, the interdependence
of the social and the personal is at the heart of his
philosophy. He seeks the simultaneous and interactive
development of the moral person and the moral society.
His philosophy of Satyagraha is both a personal and a social
struggle to realize the Truth, which he identifies as God, the
Absolute Morality. He seeks this Truth, not in isolation,
self-centeredly, 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 don't 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 sacerises his revolution, balancing the religious and the
His awakening came on the hilly terrain of the so-called Bambata
Rebellion, where as a passionate British patriot, he led his
Indian stretcher-bearer corps to serve the Empire, but British
brutality against the Zulus 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 eliminating 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 for all things British to
celebrating the indigenous and ethnic. He resuscitated the
culture of the colonized and the fullness of Indian resistance
against the British; he revived Indian handicrafts and made
these into an economic weapon against the colonizer in his call
for swadeshi--the use of one's own and the boycott of the
oppressor's products, which deprive the people of their skills
and their 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 up
unmanageable foreign debts. Gandhi's insistence on
self-sufficiency is a basic economic principle that, if followed
today, could contribute significantly to alleviating Third World
poverty and stimulating development.
Gandhi predated Frantz Fanon and the black-consciousness
movements in South Africa and the U.S. by more than a
half-century and inspired the resurgence of the indigenous
intellect, spirit and industry.
Gandhi rejects the Adam Smith notion of human nature as motivated
by self-interest and brute needs and returns us to our spiritual
dimension with its impulses for nonviolence, justice and
He exposes the fallacy of the claim that everyone can be rich and
successful provided they work hard. He points to the millions who
work themselves to the bone and still remain hungry. He preaches
the gospel of leveling down, of emulating the kisan (peasant),
not the zamindar (landlord), for "all can be kisans, but only a
He stepped down from his comfortable life to join the masses on
their level to seek equality with them. "I can't hope to bring
about economic 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 labor 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 equalization. Similarly, while recognizing
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
communist, and finds this in sarvodaya based on nonviolence
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 labor, 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 cease 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 of
whether we were directly influenced by Gandhi or not.
Gandhi remains today the only complete critique of advanced
industrial society. Others have criticized 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 mechanization to the extent that it usurps this right.
Large-scale machinery, he holds, concentrates wealth in the hands
of one man who tyrannizes the rest. He favors the small machine;
he seeks to keep the individual in control of his tools, to
maintain an interdependent love relation 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
globalization 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 the social reckoning, he was centralizing
society in God and soul; at a time when the colonized had ceased
to think and control, he dared to think and control; and when the
ideologies of the colonized had virtually disappeared, he revived
them and empowered them with a potency that liberated and
MORE TIME STORIES:
Cover Date: December 31, 1999