Executive Director – Ahmed Kathrada Foundation
Just on the outskirts of Lenasia, lies Tolstoy Farm – the place where Mahatma Gandhi honed his strategy of satyagraha, or passive resistance.
The foundation of the house that Gandhi stayed in remains on the plot. It is a simple reminder of his great legacy – both here and in India, where Gandhi challenged the might of the British empire using the methods of struggle that he developed in South Africa.
Gandhi’s legacy inspired generations of anti-apartheid activists in South Africa. His method of protest became the hallmark of the 1946 Passive Resistance Campaign. This campaign would later lead to the strengthening of ties between South African Indian Congress and African National Congress. The mutual cooperation between the organisations would lay the basis for non-racial co-operation against apartheid in succeeding years.
Gandhi’s satyagraha would also inspire the 1952 Defiance Campaign that led ordinary South Africans to court arrest by defying apartheid legislation.
Today in South Africa, what should we learn from Gandhi’s legacy?
Much has been written about Gandhi’s views on race in the earlier period of his time in South Africa. Gandhi views changed in later years to be more progressive in nature. Today, we should use the example of Gandhi to critically introspect about the remnants of apartheid that remain embedded in society. How many within our families, schools, religious dominations and organisations retain reactionary views despite living a democracy? How many have had the courage to truly change their views so that they embody the spirit of non-racialism?
Gandhi is one of the most iconic anti-colonial figures in history – driven by a militancy not inspired by armament, but by the belief in the power of mass action. Today, there are numerous conflicts and socio-political tensions throughout the world that bear the residue of colonial thinking and are fuelled by hatred, racism and ethnic division. Gandhi’s legacy should inspire us to not only be modern day activists against neo-colonialism, but to ensure that we mobilise our broader communities around agendas that promote justice, freedom and peace.
South Africa undoubtedly had a profound impact on Gandhi’s thinking and actions. He arrived on our shores an ordinary young lawyer, but left to lead India’s independence movement. Former president Nelson Mandela in speech in India captured this beautifully, by stating: “You gave us Mohandas; we returned him to you as Mahatma.” Today, we should be asking ourselves, what qualities should we be investing in ordinary young people, so that they too, can champion the cause for equality and dignity, in a society and world where there is still oppression, marginalisation and inhumanity. How can we inspire young people to in Gandhi’s own words, “be the change” that they would “want to see”?