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Address of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, on the
occasion of the 100th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's Satyagraha,
Your Excellency, the Prime Minister of India,
And esteemed members of the Indian delegation,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Premier of KwaZulu Natal, Sbu Ndebele,
Mayor of Ethekwini, Councillor Obed Mlaba,
Trustees of the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation,
Your Excellencies, Ambassadors, High Commissioners and members of
the Diplomatic Corps,
Fellow South Africans,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am truly honoured and delighted to have this opportunity to
address you in the presence of the Prime Minister of India, His
Excellency Dr Manmohan Singh, as we observe and celebrate the 100th
anniversary of the beginning of a defining epoch in our history,
the Satyagraha campaign, initiated right here in South Africa a
On behalf of the government and people of South Africa, we extend
our warmest welcome to the Prime Minister and the rest of the
visiting Indian delegation, and thank you most sincerely for
gracing our shores to share in our salute to one of India's and
South Africa's great creations, the Satyagraha, and pay undying
tribute to a truly great human being.
Our emancipation is only 12 years old. It is not so long ago that
the celebration we hold today would not have been possible. It is
not so long ago that it would have been impossible for a Prime
Minister of the great country of India to set foot on our shores.
Not so long ago, the majority of us present here were prohibited by
law and the force of arms to determine the future of our
It is in this context that, today, together with the masses of our
people, I am proud to say that, among others, Mahatma Gandhi, the
great native son of India and, at the same time a beloved son of
South Africa as well, provided the unparalleled leadership and
example that inspired the triumphant march to freedom and democracy
both in India in 1947, and in South Africa in 1994.
Again, it was no accident that it was India, at the United Nations
in 1946 that first put on the global agenda the issue of the
imperative to mobilise the international community to join us in
our struggle for our liberation from racism and white minority
domination. In this regard, I would like to acknowledge the
presence among us as a member of Prime Minister Singh's delegation,
and welcome Anand Singh whom, like E.S. Reddy, many of us have
known and worked with for many decades as a frontline fighter
against apartheid, for the liberation of all our people.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi needs no introduction to anybody here
and elsewhere in the world, for he is an international icon, martyr
and the champion of freedom, peace and non-violence. He, more than
anyone else, personifies the spirit, the essence and the meaning of
Satyagraha. Accordingly, as we celebrate the centenary of the birth
of this great philosophy and practice of struggle for human
emancipation, we also celebrate the contribution to our liberation
by all our historic leaders, such as Mahatma Gandhi.
Having arrived in South Africa in 1893, Mahatma Gandhi's life, like
those of many other leaders who came from India, was to be
transformed by a multitude of events, "racist laws, racist
treatment of both Indians and Africans as well as enduring personal
subjugation and humiliation."
However, two events stand out as some of the most defining moments
in shaping the political direction of Mahatma Ghandi, and the
launching of Satyagraha.
The first happened during the South African War, otherwise referred
to as the Anglo-Boer War. During this War, Gandhi and other leaders
of the South saw it opportune to prove their loyalty to the British
Empire so as secure equal rights for their people. Thus, they
encouraged participation of their people in the war on the side of
the British troops.
But the blatant racist attitude of the British as well as their
policy of allowing whites to subjugate the Indian-South Africans
politically and economically, before and after the War, made Gandhi
and his comrades to begin formulating strategies of mobilising
people for freedom.
The second event was during the Bambatha Uprising in 1906, whose
Centenary we have and are commemorating this year. Gandhi led an
ambulance corps to help the wounded among the Zulu people. He later
wrote in his autobiography that:
"The Zulu 'rebellion' was full of new experiences and gave me much
food for thought. The Boer War had not brought home to me the
horrors of war with anything like the vividness that the
'rebellion' did. This was no war but a man-hunt. To hear every
morning reports of the soldiers' rifles exploding like crackers in
innocent Hamlets, and to live in the midst of them was a trial. But
I swallowed the bitter draught, especially as the work of my Corps
consisted only in nursing the wounded Zulus. I could see that but
for us the Zulus would have been uncared for. This work, therefore,
eased my conscience. Enraged by such experiences, Gandhi decided to
dedicate more of his life to the struggle for the liberation of all
A protest meeting of the Indian-South African people was convened
in Johannesburg in September 1906 as a response to the promulgation
of the Asiatic Bill and the Transvaal Asiatic Registration Act,
which made registration of all Indians compulsory and identified
them as a separate racial group, adding to existing oppressive
measures such as the ?3 tax on the indentured labourers.
The non-violent defiance campaign decided at this meeting gave
birth to Satyagraha, as a result of which those who defied the law
by striking, burning passes or simply refusing to register were
flogged, jailed and even shot at. Thousands across the country put
their very lives on line by participating in this non-violent civil
In an article in the Indian Opinion in 1907, Mahatma Gandhi wrote
that non-violent acts of civil disobedience were acceptable against
any immoral law that was repugnant or harmful to the people.
As E.S. Reddy has observed in his article, 'The First Martyrs of
"Gandhiji often stressed that satyagraha is not mere jail-going. He
warned, during the first Satyagraha in South Africa, as early as
1909: 'A satyagrahi must be afraid neither of imprisonment nor of
deportation. He must neither mind being reduced to poverty, nor be
frightened, if it comes to that, of being mashed into pulp with a
mortar and pestle'."
Reddy says it was clear to the satyagrahi that although satyagraha
is a totally non-violent and civilised form of resistance, the
oppressors would try to break it by resorting to an escalation of
brutality, together with 'dirty tricks' to confuse and divide the
ranks of the resisters.
When two infants died in Natal during the Great March of
Indian-South African workers in 1913, they symbolised the supreme
sacrifice of non-violent protest in the name of noble ideals,
struggle and sacrifice for freedom.
Further, Gandhiji was profoundly affected by these and other deaths
and wrote tributes to four martyrs: Sammy Nagappan, a teenager who
died of pneumonia after being forced to break stones in bitter
cold; A Narayanswami, who was not allowed to land for two months
when he returned from illegal deportation to India, though
shivering on the open deck without adequate clothes; Valliamma
Moonsamy, the 16 year-old girl who refused to seek parole despite
her serious illness from incarceration in Pietermartizburg and died
after completing her sentence; and the indomitable Harbn
(Extracted from Reddy, E.S., 'The First Martyrs of Satyagraha',
From Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg; from the plantations of
Tongaat and Verulam to the mines of Newcastle and the farms of
Umzinto, countless Indian heroines and heroes became martyrs. While
some were professionals and homemakers, the majority were
indentured labourers, workers and peasants whom Gandhi described as
the "salt of the earth".
In the Preface to his book 'Satyagraha in South Africa' published
in 1928, Mahatma Gandhi wrote about what he called "the beauty of
Satyagraha", and said:
"It comes up to oneself; one has not to go out in search for it.
This is a virtue inherent in the principle itself. A dharma-yudda,
in which there are no secrets to be guarded, no scope for cunning
and no place for untruth, comes unsought; and a man of religion is
ever ready for it. God helps when one feels oneself humbler than
the very dust under one's feet. Only to the weak and helpless is
divine succour vouchsafed... The reader will note South African
parallels for all our experiences (in India) in the present
struggle to date. He will also see from this history that there is
so far no ground whatever for despair in the fight that is going
on. The only condition for victory is a tenacious adherence to our
He concluded the book with these words: "I will consider myself
amply repaid if I have in these pages demonstrated with some
success that Satyagraha is a priceless and matchless weapon, and
that those who wield it are strangers to disappointment or
Over the years, the work of this great human being as expressed
through Satyagraha, with its unshakable advocacy of respect for
honesty, the truth, loyalty to principle, and perseverance in the
struggle for justice, was to influence generations of brave men and
women as they also fought for their freedom.
Indeed, the voice that symbolised the American Civil Rights
Movement, which celebrates its golden Jubilee this year, echoed the
teachings of Mahatma Gandhi that inspired Martin Luther King Jr, as
well as many others across the world, to follow in the humble
footsteps of that extraordinary lawyer and human being.
For the timeless lessons of Gandhi are so evident in the words of
Martin Luther King Jr when he said:
"If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived,
thought, and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving
toward a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore him at our own
(The Words of Martin Luther King, ibid, p.57)
And surely today, as we confront the spectre of violent national
conflicts, war and international terrorism, we can only ignore
Mahatma Gandhi's vision and message at our own risk. For the human
solidarity, human dignity, self-respect and equality among the
peoples, for which Gandhiji fought and died, are the core values
that we need to pass on to the generations that follow us so that
they may live lives of peace, harmony and prosperity.
And those generations will salute us too if we tackle the
challenges of the 21st century with the same vision for social
justice, peace and harmony.
A century after Satyagraha began in the old colonial Transvaal, we
will tomorrow, on Mahatma Gandhi's 135th birthday, have the
privilege to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his delegation
to discuss the further measures we must take to raise to higher
levels our concerted effort to strengthen our bonds of friendship
with India, which is, to us, not only a genuine strategic partner,
but also a second home all our people.
In this regard, let us reflect on the prescient words of Mahatma
Gandhi when he addressed a Satyagraha meeting in Johannesburg in
"If we look into the future of South Africa, is it not a
heritage we have to leave to posterity, that all the different
races commingle and produce a civilisation that perhaps the world
has not yet seen?"
(Reddy, E.S. and Gandhi, G.)
During this time that we, South Africans have defined as the Age of
Hope. The challenge for us is how to produce a heritage where all
different races, creeds, faiths and religions commingle and produce
a civilisation that indeed the world has not yet seen.
In 2001, the world family of nations gathered here in Durban at the
United Nations Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination,
Xenophobia, and Related Intolerances.
Yet, instead of being sisters and brothers and friendly neighbours
in this journey of life, we see the rainbow tapestry of the human
family being unravelled because of racial hatred, religious
intolerance, ethnicity, xenophobia, sexism and terrorism.
At the same time, because of the refusal of especially the most
privileged in the world to open their ears, hearts and minds to the
unconquerable voice of the Mahatma, billions of people continue to
live in abject poverty and underdevelopment despite the fact that
human society disposes of enough intellectual and material
resources to address these challenges.
Today, as we reflect on the past struggles, may we also look ahead
tomorrow to see how the strategic partnership between India and
South Africa can be imbued with the Gandhian philosophy so that we
may create a sustainable human family where satya, truth, will
prevail, underpinned by the universal values of human solidarity,
human dignity and self-respect, which must inspire the building of
modern human society.
The peoples of India and South Africa have been engaged is united
action for freedom, equality and human dignity for well over a
century. We are immensely proud that we share with our sister
country, India, a common hero, leader and noble giant, Mahatma
As we continue to act together, among other things to contribute to
the emergence of a just global order, confronting the disequilibria
and imbalance of power exacerbated by the process of globalisation,
we must remain as Mahatma Gandhi said, "strangers to disappointment
May Mahatma Gandhi's Phoenix Settlement of 1904 be a symbol to
inspire a prosperous renaissance in our countries and across the
developing world, so that the African phoenix and the Indian
phoenix rise from the ashes of colonialism and apartheid and reach
for a destination defined by democracy, peace, true friendship,
prosperity and a better life for all our peoples.
Once more, a warm welcome to our dear friend and brother, Manmohan
Singh, as well as his esteemed delegation!
Long live Satyagraha!
Long live the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi!
Long live the indestructible friendship between the peoples of
India and South Africa!