For The Book
“the South African Gandhi: Stretcher-bearer Of Empire”
By Professor Ashwin Desai And
Associate Professor Goolam Vahed
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
President Of The Inkatha Freedom Party
Hilton Hotel, Durban: 22 October 2015
When I received an invitation from Dr Dube to attend this book launch, I immediately made arrangements to come to Durban, for I – like many throughout the world – am a great admirer of the Mahatma Gandhi. Indeed, if you visit my home in Mahlabathini you will see a picture of the Mahatma as you enter.
Like many young people at the time, I was influenced by Gandhi’s philosophy of Satyagraha or “Truth Force”, and his commitment to passive resistance dovetailed with what I had been raised to believe was the right way to conduct our liberation struggle.
My own uncle, Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme, the founding father of the 1912 African National Native Congress, laid at the foundation of our struggle the principle of non-violence.
As a young man in the ANC Youth League, I often attended mass meetings in Durban which were jointly addressed by leaders like Dr Monty Naicker and Dr Yusuf Dadoo, and leaders of the ANC. I became close to leaders of the Indian Congress, like Mr Debhi Singh, Mr Ismail Meer and many others too numerous to mention. We understood this to be the legacy of the Mahatma Gandhi.
When I left university, I began spending a great deal of time with Inkosi Albert Luthuli, and he again confirmed in my heart Gandhi’s principle of non-violence.
I therefore considered Gandhi one of the great minds and great heroes of the struggle for freedom, wherever it is waged. When I endured years of vilification and propaganda at the hands of my former comrades in the ANC for refusing to abandon non-violence, as they themselves had done, I was encouraged by the knowledge that I was walking the path advocated by people like the Mahatma Gandhi.
I expressed all these things when I had the privilege of delivering the Gandhi Memorial Lecture at his home in Phoenix several years ago.
So one might ask how I feel about the publication of this book.
Professor Ashwin Desai and Associate Professor Goolam Vahed have exposed a side of Gandhi that we did not know. I am tempted to say, “Well, no one is perfect.” But I am not being flippant in the face of such serious revelations.
I have always understood that none of us, no matter how virtuous we appear, is a saint. I am wary of creating icons of any man. In some respects, it serves a purpose, for it unites people around a shared ideal. But the danger is that the ideal will be questioned the moment a weakness is discovered in the man.
In this regard, like me be clear. I have no regrets for admiring Gandhi’s leadership and absolutely no regrets in championing the ideal of non-violence he espoused.
Though his politics may now be exposed to have been less honourable in all respects than we believed, there is no denying that Gandhi’s leadership provided a remarkable impetus to our liberation struggle, and has indeed benefitted the international community, inspiring many. The history of South Africa was changed by Gandhi’s presence on our soil.
What I take from this book, therefore – and I must emphasise that I have not yet read it, but have read about it – is the concern that afro-indian cohesion was somehow set back by Gandhi’s desire to position Indians above that despicable benchmark created by our colonisers for native people.
That is worthy of investigation, and I thank Professor Desai and Associate Professor Vahed for directing our minds to consider this possibility; not because it might disillusion us about Gandhi, but because afro-indian cohesion is something we have not given enough attention.
I have often regretted that I seldom see among today’s youth the kind of fellowship I enjoyed as a young black South African with young Indian South Africans. Despite all the machinations of the apartheid regime to keep us separate, we found ways to unite.
In the face of the Improper Interference Act which forbade political participation between South Africans of different extractions, I founded the Black Alliance with Mr Yellan Chinsamy, Mr Alan Hendrickse and others. President Botha’s response was to found the Tricameral Parliament in order to torpedo our Black Alliance.
But we were determined to be cohesive and work together. Thus the Buthelezi Commission benefitted from Indian Commissioners like Mr AM Moola of the South African Indian Council, Mr Chinsamy of the Reform Party and Mr Armichand Rajbansi of the Minority Party.
Out of the Buthelezi Commission, we established the KwaZulu Natal Indaba which resulted in South Africa’s first non-racial, non-discriminatory government; the KwaZulu-Natal Joint Executive Authority. Long before democratic negotiations, cohesion between Indians, blacks and coloureds proved how governance by all, for all could be achieved.
I am deeply concerned by the evidence of social divisions in our present South Africa. Even the absence of efforts to actively pursue cohesion is worrying, for there is much that threatens to divide us. If we do not intentionally oppose division, it may well destroy our hopes for South Africa.
I will therefore read this book with great interest, knowing that I am certain to be saddened and upset, but knowing also that my admiration for Gandhi was never misplaced.