When one hears of the ‘Mahatma Gandhi-Nelson Mandela Series’, the image that one conjures up is that of an auditorium full of academically inclined people, attending a lecture series on international relations or political philosophy. However, as many people from the two countries would immediately recognise, it is in fact a test cricket series that was started in 2015 between India and South Africa to pay homage to the two revered leaders. The Freedom Trophy is aptly titled to highlight the pivotal roles of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela in the freedom struggles of India and South Africa. The love for cricket that the two countries have stems from a shared colonial past, characterised by race-based discrimination and subjugation. The suffering of the people at the hands of their oppressors was eventually brought to an end by the indomitable spirits of Gandhi and Madiba. While Gandhi mobilized millions at home to fight for independence from the British rule, Madiba led South Africa’s struggle against the tyrannical system of apartheid. In their long walk to freedom, both leaders faced trials and tribulations at every step but carried on even in the face of adversities, inspiring generations to stand up for their rights.
Satyagraha in South Africa
Gandhi spent twenty-one years of his life in South Africa, initially engaged as a lawyer for an Indian trader. Not long after he arrived in the country he was subjected to racial discrimination which opened his eyes to the systemic prejudice and oppression that was prevalent in South Africa. He helped organ-ise the Indian community, where he was likely to be well received, and reached out to them to fight against the injustices that they were being subjected to. It was during this time that he formed his opin-ions on politics, social justice, and role of ethics and morals in a movement of resistance. In his book ‘Satyagraha in South Africa’ Gandhi explains how he came to give a name to the movement and distin-guish it from ‘passive resistance’. He thought that it was not appropriate for the movement to be known by its English name, and so called for submissions in a weekly journal and declared a small prize for the most suitable title. Though the winner was the word ‘Sadagraha’, which was Sanskrit for ‘firm-ness in a good cause’ Gandhi felt that to connote the true spirit of his ideology, the word needed to be changed to read ‘Satyagraha’. He believed that Truth (Satya) implied love, and that firmness (agraha) served as a synonym for force and therefore when used together, the words would mean the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence.
The same philosophy of Satyagraha was a tremendous inspiration for Madiba, an avowed Gandhian himself. When Time Magazine asked him to contribute to an issue which celebrated the 100 most in-fluential persons of the 20th century, he chose to pay tribute to the Mahatma. Writing about the signif-icance of the influence that Gandhi yielded over the freedom struggles across the African continent, Madiba called Gandhi “the sacred warrior”. He shared Gandhi’s vision of creating an equal and just so-ciety, enshrined in a democratic framework, where people would be allowed a peaceful existence. An active member of the African National Congress since 1943, he too was ready to sacrifice his life for the freedom of his people. It comes as no surprise that India was the first country that Madiba chose to visit after his release from prison where he was held captive for 27 years. During this historical visit in 1990, Madiba was conferred with the Bharat Ratna, making him the first non-Indian to receive In-dia’s highest civilian honour. He was also awarded the International Gandhi Peace Price in 2001 by the Indian government for his non-violent resistance to apartheid. Both leaders taught people the true power of compassion and believed that the oppressor himself is in a fight for freedom from hatred, calling for hating the deed but not the doer.
The turning points in both struggles
In 1920, as a sign of protest, Gandhi returned the Kaiser-e-Hind medal which was awarded to him by the British Empire. One of the reasons for this act was the massacre of unarmed and non-violent pro-testers at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, India, on 13 April 1919. Jallianwala Bagh was then a small gar-den, enclosed on three sides by buildings with only one exit. On that fateful day it hosted pilgrims who had gathered to peacefully protest the draconian Rowlatt Act. They were subjected to unprovoked and indiscriminate firing by the British Indian Army troops. Close to four hundred people were reportedly killed in the action. This inhuman act of the British Empire against hapless, peaceful protesters left the nation in a state of shock and paved the way for widespread public rebellion. It united Indians under the non-cooperation movement, the first, large-scale and sustained nonviolent satyagraha campaign led by Gandhi. The non-cooperation movement succeeded in challenging for the very first time, the hegemonistic economic and power structures perpetuated by the British. Due to the sheer force of the popular uprising, British authorities were compelled to notice the demands of the independence movement.
Similarly, the Sharpeville massacre was a turning point in South African history. On 21 March 1960, about five thousand unarmed protesters had gathered in Sharpeville, a township close to Johannes-burg. As the protestors demonstrated against the oppressive Pass Laws that curbed their right to move freely in their own country, the police shot at them without warning, killing at least sixty-nine people and wounding hundreds. Amidst widespread international criticism, the South African government de-clared a state of emergency and banned both the Pan Africanist Congress and the African National Congress. Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India, came out to strongly condemn the mas-sacre and reiterated India's long-standing support for the anti-apartheid movement. The Jallianwala Bagh and Sharpeville massacres both had far-reaching consequences on the freedom struggles of India and South Africa. After decades of continued resistance, India received independence from the British in 1947, and South Africa was freed from the clutches of the apartheid regime in 1991. The world re-members the remarkable struggles of both nations and eulogizes Gandhi and Madiba as champions of civil rights, who dedicated their lives to their nations and fought their oppressors with the spirit of magnanimity and clemency.
Two nations, one fight
The current generations from both India and South Africa derive a large part of their national identity, from their recent history, which reflects the struggles of a people yearning for a just and equal socie-ty. As citizens of developing nations, we understand that the fight for freedom is a matter of constant struggle which extends beyond the territorial and political attainment of Swaraj or self-rule. We need to work towards ensuring that each citizen is freed from the structural violence of poverty, exploita-tion and discrimination on the basis of race or caste. To empower the people of our nations to achieve their true potential, governments, businesses communities and civil society need to continue to work constructively to create an enabling environment, where increased economic opportunities give way to improved livelihoods. History is witness to how the two nations in two different continents moved on a path of resistance to counter oppressive forces and emerged more resolute in their fight against violence and injustice. It is now upto us to act to ensure that our future generations have access to better opportunities so that they can chart their own history. The youth of India and South Africa stand to benefit from strengthened economic cooperation, where exchange of ideas, sharing of experiences and strategic investment in innovative technologies will help in finding solutions to imminent challeng-es. As part of the BRICS grouping of countries, the two nations are uniquely positioned to work along-side each other and explore more avenues to collaborate such that industry becomes that harbinger of change which is aspired for in attaining higher levels of development. As we continue to contribute to the building of stronger democracies, we need to carry forward the shared virtues of patience, for-giveness, and compassion, and ensure that the gains made over the last many decades are carried for-ward with the same determination. India and South Africa will find themselves better positioned to emerge as economic powers if they fortify their natural partnership in economic development. Greater cooperation between the two nations will ensure that citizens have the right to live with dignity and freedom from poverty and unemployment.