The Sacred Warrior by Nelson Mandela
Oct 02, 2001 09:03 PM
Mahatma Gandhi was born Oct.2, 1869 in Porbandar, India. To celebrate
The Sacred Warrior
The liberator of South Africa looks at the seminal work of the liberator of
BY NELSON MANDELA
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 our century.
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
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 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-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
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 equality.
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 few zamindars."
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
>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 (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 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
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
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 redeemed.
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