Mandela and The Mahatma

06 December 2013

Alexandra Hansen

South African President Jacob Zuma has announced this morning the passing of South Africa’s “greatest son” Nelson Mandela.

“He is now resting. He is now at peace. Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father,” President Zuma told international press this morning.

“Although we knew that this day would come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss. His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world,” he said.

South Africa’s first black President, Mandela led South Africa out of apartheid after spending 27 years in prison for anti-apartheid activities.

Mandela has often noted his inspiration in India’s own liberator and “father”, Mohandas Gandhi.

Mandela has been named alongside Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi as one of only three people in history to free their people without taking up arms, leaving an indelible mark on the history of the nations they served, and the rest of the world.

Gandhi lived in South Africa for nearly two decades, and Mandela described Gandhi’s influence as “formidable”.

“Mahatma Gandhi came to this country 100 years ago, to assist Indians brought to this country as indentured labourers and those who came to set up trading posts. He came here to assist them to retain their right to be on a common voters roll,” Mandela explained at an event honouring Gandhiji in 1993.

“The Mahatma is an integral part of our history because it is here that he first experimented with truth; here that he demonstrated his characteristic firmness in pursuit of justice; here that he developed Satyagraha as a philosophy and a method of struggle.”

He said as well as the Mahatma’s influence on South Africa, the country in turn also had a great influence on the Mahatma. “You gave us Mohandas and we returned him to you as Mahatma Gandhi,” Mandela said during a visit to India.

At a function in New Delhi last year to celebrate Mandela’s 94th birthday, Harris Majeke, South Africa’s ambassador to India said “While Nelson Mandela is the father of South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi is our grandfather,”

“Mandela was inspired by the Satyagraha campaign led by Gandhi. It was a compelling act of passive protest against oppression. This would later inspire the formation of the African National Congress and strengthen Mandela’s belief in our shared humanity.”

Integral to Mandela’s following of Gandhian principles was that of non-violence. At an Indian Independence fiftieth anniversary celebration, Mandela said India’s independence showed South Africa the way and the means to a pluralistic democracy in an ethnically diverse nation.

"History books in both our countries will forever record India's Independence as a date of enormous significance. It was not just a victory for the people of India but for all those under colonial rule. It inspired and encouraged other liberation struggles around the world. But it is especially significant to South Africans.... As a younger sibling, democratic South Africa continues to learn from the experience of India."

Leaders the world-over are offering their condolences and paying tribute to the great man, Nelson Mandela. President Barack Obama in a Whitehouse adress said "He achieved more than could be expected of any man. Today he's gone home," an emotional Obama added: "He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages."