PRINCE MANGOSUTHU BUTHELEZI MP
PRESIDENT OF THE INKATHA FREEDOM PARTY
This morning, invited by Her Excellency Ms Ruchira Kamboj, the High Commissioner of India, and Her Excellency Mrs Sushma Swaraj, Minister of External Affairs of the Government of India, I took a special train journey from Pentridge Railway Station in Pietermaritzburg. Many dignitaries and leaders joined us as we commemorated the moment on 7 June 1893 when Mohandas K. Gandhi was removed from a first class rail compartment based on the colour of his skin.
He spent the entire night in the station waiting room contemplating this incident, and by morning he had made a decision. He would remain in South Africa to fight against injustice.
I believe it important that we set aside time to remember the pivotal moments in history, so that we can contemplate their value, not only to what has already unfolded, but to the history that we are making even now through our decisions, our choices and our actions.
Gandhi’s decision changed the course of history. I contend that it was not only South Africa’s history that was changed in that moment, but also the history of India, and indeed the history of liberation struggles throughout the world. What Gandhi learned in the crucible of our country, ignited a powerful ideology that transcends time and place.
The ideology of truth force, Satyagraha, today unpins many righteous causes and moral movements. It may be called different things, but it was birthed on that same Railway Station, by that same young lawyer, in 1893. The Mahatma Gandhi bestowed a legacy on us all when he made the decision to stand for truth, justice and peace.
I will never forget the day we received news of Gandhi’s assassination. I was a young student just entering the University of Fort Hare. I and my fellow young freedom fighters were devastated, for we considered Gandhi to be one of the icons of our liberation struggle. His philosophy of Satyagraha was widely accepted as the most effective strategy of resisting injustice. I remember many conversations that I had with Inkosi Albert Luthuli, in which he emphasised Gandhi’s principle of passive resistance.
This very principle had been laid at the foundation of the South African National Native Congress in 1912, by my own uncle, Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme. Thus the oldest liberation movement in Africa was based on the ideal of non-violent resistance. We were to maintain the high moral ground, honouring the dignity of all those for whom we struggled.
I am proud to know that the principle of passive resistance remained at the heart of my own struggle, through the Inkatha Freedom Party. When the African National Congress took up arms and engaged violence as a political strategy, I and the IFP refused to abandon non-violence. We remained true to the path taught by Gandhi and we kept alive the truth that freedom and peace are equally valuable.
South Africa’s liberation struggle was waged by people of all cultures, languages and backgrounds. Wherever freedom, equality and human dignity were revered, there were people willing to make sacrifices to achieve them. The freedom we enjoy today would not have been won without the contribution of the many who came from India as indentured labourers and remained to build their legacy on this soil. South Africa owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to those women and men.
I therefore hope that this commemoration will spark conversations not only about the past, but about the present. Some of the decisions being made now run in direct discordance with the historic decision we are celebrating.
I think, for instance, of the terrible decision made by a certain Nkuleko Mkhize to post hate speech on social media targeting the Indian community. Or the decision of three men to hijack a vehicle outside Marklands School in Shallcross, which led to the fatal shooting of nine-year old Sadia Sukhraj.
We need to be aware that our decisions, taken individually on a daily basis, can have a far-reaching impact on social cohesion and the success of nation-building. Our decisions can shape the wellbeing, or the pain, of a community. Just as Gandhi took a decision to stand for what is right, we too must consider our decisions in the light of what is good and right and just, not only for ourselves, but for those around us.
In this way, we take forward the legacy of an icon. Just as we have received the benefit of his good decisions, may future generations receive the benefit of ours.