December 10, 2013 By Kiran Raj

Mandela’s Gandhi: The Meaning of Violence in Resistance

mandela_0One of the important similarities between Gandhi and Mandela was nothing but the milieu which made them. Though Gandhi focused his attention to the Indians who lived in South Africa, he has witnessed racism there so much as to make it a reference point in his political activism in India. About it, Mandela later acknowledged in a speech: ‘Gandhi arrived in South Africa in 1893 at the age of 23. Within a week he collided head on with racism. His immediate response was to flee the country that so degraded people of color, but then his inner resilience overpowered him with a sense of mission, and he stayed to redeem the dignity of the racially exploited, to pave the way for the liberation of the colonized the world over and to develop a blueprint for a new social order.’ (The Sacred Warrior, Mandela)

The Gandhian model of non-violent struggle inspired Mandela to the extent that he adopted and later adapted it for the struggle against the apartheid. Mandela minces no word to express his debt to Mahatma in his autobiography: “The Indian campaign became a model for the type of protest that we in the Youth League were calling for. It instilled a spirit of defiance and radicalism among the people, broke the fear of prison, and boosted the popularity and influence of the NIC and TIC. They reminded us that the freedom struggle was not merely a question of making speeches, holding meetings, passing resolutions, and sending deputations, but of meticulous organization, militant mass action, and, above all, the willingness to suffer and sacrifice. The Indian campaign hearkened back to the 1913 passive resistance campaign in which Mahatma Gandhi led a tumultuous procession of Indians crossing illegally from Natal to the Transvaal. That was history; this campaign was taking place before my own eyes.” (Mandela, the Long Walk to Freedom, page 67)

There was, however, the point of departure from the Gandhian model. Though Mandela recognized that ‘the time had come for mass action along the lines of Gandhi’s nonviolent protests in India’ (Ibid page 72) and ‘the 1946 passive resistance campaign if necessary go to prison for their beliefs as Gandhi had’, he ‘saw nonviolence in the Gandhian model not as an inviolable principle but as a tactic to be used as the situation demanded.’ Non-violence, was, for him, ‘morally superior to any other method. This idea was strongly affirmed by Manilal Gandhi, the Mahatma’s son and the editor of the newspaper Indian Opinion, who was a prominent member of the SAIC. With his gentle demeanor, Gandhi seemed the very personification of nonviolence, and he insisted that the campaign be run along identical lines to that of his father’s in India.’ (Ibid page 77)

About the unfeasibility of non-violent protest against all forms of aggression, Madala later remarked: ‘I followed the Gandhian strategy for as long as I could, but then there came a point in our struggle when the brute force of the oppressor could no longer be countered through passive resistance alone. We founded Unkhonto we Sizwe and added a military dimension to our struggle. Even then, we chose sabotage because it did not involve the loss of life, and it offered the best hope for future race relations. Militant action became part of the African agenda officially supported by the Organization of African Unity (O.A.U.) following my address to the Pan-African Freedom Movement of East and Central Africa (PAFMECA) in 1962, in which I stated, “Force is the only language the imperialists can hear, and no country became free without some sort of violence.” He quotes Gandhi himself to support this claim: ‘”Where choice is set between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence… I prefer to use arms in defense of honor rather than remain the vile witness of dishonor …” (The Sacred Warrior, Mandela)

British philosopher Ted Honderich made a daring comment relating the Palestininan intifada with the South African people in his ‘After the Terror’: “I myself have no serious doubt, to take the outstanding case, that the Palestinians have exercised a moral right in their terrorism against the Israelis. They have had a moral right to terrorism as certain as was the moral right, say, of the African people of South Africa against their white captors and the apartheid state. Those Palestinians who have resorted to necessary killing have been right to free their people, and those who have killed themselves in the cause of their people have sanctified themselves.” (After the Terror, page 151)

Making a scathing attack on Honderich, authors Heribert Adam and Kogila Moodley in their work Seeking Mandela peacemaking Between Israelis and Palestinians : Politics, History and Social Change, says: ‘Despite its “armed struggle” the ANC, as the main voice of black South Africa, has never endorsed terrorism, defined as intentional harming of innocent civilians. In fact, the ANC admonished local combatants who deviated from this policy and successfully constrained its frustrated cadres to channel their anger into disciplined resistance. Not one suicide has been committed in the cause of a thirty-year-long armed struggle, although in practice the ANC drifted increasingly toward violence during the latter years of apartheid.’ (op.cit page Xi)
One of the problems inherent in such an analysis is that it hardly prescribes non-violence to state actors, while it advises the intifada leaders to ‘recapture the moral high ground! Take a public stance against the counterproductive suicide bombings. Intentional killings of innocent civilians is immoral and a crime against humanity under international law. It marginalizes the Israeli peace camp, a much-needed ally. Instead, adopt a Gandhian-style passive resistance, the nonviolence of the first intifada, which was rooted in the popular involvement and protest actions of shopkeepers and school children alike (Ibid page 8)

Though none supports the method of victimizing innocent people in the struggle against oppression, the antidote of passive resistance can’t at best be prescribed to the Palestinians, in view of Mandela’s adaptation of the Gandhian model to the struggle against the Apartheid.

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