|GANDHI'S VISION OF
[Excerpts from the ninth Desmond Tutu Peace Lecture, delivered by Ela Gandhi
in Pietermaritzburg in 1993. The lecture is organised by the World Conference
on Religion and Peace to promote understanding and cooperation between people
of different faiths in South Africa.]
Gandhiji maintained that there cannot be true and lasting peace unless there
is equal opportunities for all:
"You cannot have a good social system when you find yourself low in
the scale of political rights, nor can you be fit to exercise political
rights and privileges unless your social system is based on reason and justice.
You cannot have a good economic system when your social arrangements are
imperfect. If your religious ideas are low and grovelling, you cannot succeed
in ensuring equal status for women, and the access to opportunities for
all was the ultimate that would bring independence to the people of India."
So when we talk of peace as Gandhiji saw it we have to look for comprehensive
solutions. I perceive the lessons from Gandhiji's life as being three-fold:
1. That the goal of the struggle for peace and democracy is for the
good of all; not just the good of the majority.
2. That one has to be prepared to make sacrifices to attain this.
3. That political power in itself does not result in peace and democracy;
we have to work and strive for peace and democracy.
Locating these lessons within our situation today, it becomes clear that
we have a long and steep road ahead. Gandhiji's life has taught us one very
clear lesson: it is easy to postulate principles, but very difficult to
put them into practice. Believing in peace and a good life for all is very
well but the final step is putting into practice what we have learnt or
begun to believe in. This final step is what eventually determines the quality
of our lives.
There are many questions which have been brought before the Goldstone Commission
about the violence in our country. The questions of political violence,
the question of police and army violence, the question of the "third
force", the question of tribal or ethnic violence, and so on. Yet the
structural violence caused by the non-provision of adequate water, sanitation,
medical care, housing and social security - all of which lead to the deaths
of thousands of our people weekly - has not been addressed.
When Gandhiji came to South Africa he saw that the people had acquiesced
in the harsh treatment to which they were subjected. The indentured workers
chose to run away from their contracts or to commit suicide as a result
of the harsh treatment meted out to them by their employers. In India the
poor farm workers suffered similar treatment and had also given in to these
conditions. Gandhiji instilled in them dignity and a sense of direction.
He raised their consciousness about their rights and aroused in them a will
to resist the oppression they suffered.
The struggle for liberation in South Africa also drew the same response
from the people as did the defiance campaigns of Gandhiji. Thousands of
people took to the streets to draw attention to their plight. It is ironic
that in South Africa such mass action is seen as violent while the brutality
in the townships and the loss of thousands of lives have aroused little
reaction from the authorities. We see frantic attempts to get parties to
sign peace accords, yet many fundamental concerns of the people remain unaddressed.
As we draw to the close of the 20th century - no matter how promising the
negotiations may be - peace in South Africa and world peace are indeed pressing
issues. So perhaps Gandhiji's life is more relevant and significant today
than ever before.
Having political power is therefore just the first step towards peace. We
all have to accept the responsibility to change things. We have a responsibility
to cultivate some of the principles by which Gandhiji lived. We have to
begin to look at sharing and ensuring that resources are distributed equitably.
We must ensure that people can see and feel the change and be able to identify
a niche for themselves in the world.
In addition to political oppression, we have economic, intellectual, religious,
environmental, and gender oppression in South Africa. When we talk about
peace, we cannot view the indiscriminate killings and destruction of property
in isolation from the poverty, illiteracy, religious intolerance, environmental
threats and gender oppression faced by our people.
But having identified problems, it is also necessary to look for solutions.
It is clear that change of political power in itself will not be able to
achieve peace. De Klerk certainly needs to rethink the whole notion of enforced
peace. So what can we do to achieve peace in our country? How can we help
to build a society where peace will be the central concern of all its people?
I think that Gandhiji would consider the following as essential conditions
1. That people in power, whether political, economic, religious,
civic or administrative power, need to develop a holistic view of peace.
If we want a better country for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren
then we need to act and ensure that such a holistic view is adopted and
that a comprehensive approach is used in addressing the issue of peace.
We also have a responsibility to ensure that the community understands and
approves of this approach. We must be willing to share expertise and funds,
and at the same time develop the community's capacity to meet the challenges
of the future.
2. We cannot expect a new government to change things on its own.
We have to take responsibility for bringing about changes and in this we
can seek the assistance of the state. We need to develop a climate of love,
caring, sharing and communal consciousness as we begin the process of building
an equitable society through community programmes. We certainly may be able
to get more support for such projects from a new government.
3. We need to build a culture of non-violence among our children
and youth, through actively ensuring that we (and they) do not support war
toys or violent games, media, books, stories, etc., but instead promote
a culture of resistance to injustice. We need to inculcate a communal responsibility
among all our people.
4. We need to create a culture of work, and recognise the dignity
of work, so that we can learn not only to meet our own needs but also those
of the whole community.
5. We need to develop a South African identity, so that we can be
rid of the racism and sexism embedded in us through life under apartheid
and begin to love our people and our country.
6. We should be vigilant to the needs of the community and begin
to lay the foundation for a more equitable society where everyone may have
access to opportunities. The present unemployment situation needs to be
seriously challenged and work opportunities created for all people.
These are the goals Gandhiji set for development work in India and I guess
they apply to us today. Perhaps only when these goals have been achieved,
will we be able to say to ourselves that we have achieved peace in our country,
a peace for which Gandhiji lived, worked, and died.
From NU Focus (University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg),
Third quarter 1993,
Volume 4, Number 3.
Email This Page