Gandhi fes­ti­val

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THE Pi­eter­mar­itzburg Gandhi Memo­rial Com­mit­tee will host a Body-Mind-Spirit Peace Fes­ti­val at the Pi­eter­mar­itzburg Rail­way Sta­tion on Sun­day from 8am as a pre­cur­sor to its an­nual 3.6km Gandhi Peace Walk at 1.30pm at Project Gate­way “The Olde Prison” in Burger Street.

Reg­is­tra­tion will take place at the rail­way sta­tion from 8am.

Walk­ers will gather at 1pm.

LAST week the Gandhi De­vel­op­ment Trust launched a year-long com­mem­o­ra­tion of the birth an­niver­saries of Kas­turba Gandhi (April 11, 1869) and Mo­han­das Karam­c­hand Gandhi (Oc­to­ber 2, 1869) at a spe­cial event in the Dur­ban City Hall.

The fo­cus of commemorative plans for the next 12 months lead­ing up to Oc­to­ber 2, 2019, is to re­call the Gand­hian teach­ings and wit­ness and to en­sure that the legacy of Mahatma and Kas­turba will not be for­got­ten. Much at­ten­tion will be given to the val­ues they lived out.

There is at present un­der­stand­ably huge con­cern about vi­o­lence in KZN, es­pe­cially vi­o­lence in­flicted on chil­dren and young peo­ple, by youth on each other and even on their teach­ers. With the na­tional elec­tions just months away, these con­cerns will grow. The Gand­hian mes­sage speaks di­rectly to this sit­u­a­tion.

I have just re-read Ela Gandhi’s ex­cel­lent book­let en­ti­tled Es­sen­tial Val­ues of Mahatma Gandhi – beau­ti­fully il­lus­trated by Mark Choonoo.

The style is sim­ple and clear – suit­able for all ages. It is a trea­sure chest of in­for­ma­tion about Gand­hian val­ues and phi­los­o­phy and I de­cided to base this col­umn largely on the points I found most strik­ing.

We are for­tu­nate to have a Gandhi grand­daugh­ter liv­ing in Dur­ban, one who spent sev­eral months in In­dia with her grand­fa­ther when she was just 6 years old.

In an in­ter­view last week at the In­dian Con­sulate in Dur­ban, Ela spoke mov­ingly of what that ex­pe­ri­ence meant to her.

What made the most im­pact on her was the pro­found re­spect with which her grand­fa­ther treated every­one he met, re­gard­less of age, race or be­liefs, even a lit­tle 6-year-old girl.

She was de­lighted that af­ter her re­turn to South Africa when she re­ceived a per­sonal let­ter from him.

“If we all re­lated to other peo­ple in that way, we wouldn’t have all the prob­lems we have. In or­der to coun­ter­act vi­o­lence and racism, we must re­spect every­one with com­pas­sion and love,” was the les­son Ela learnt at that early age.

Her grand­fa­ther was al­ways “very, very cheer­ful” she said and that helped Ela through some of the dark­est days of apartheid.

But what are the other val­ues that Ela ex­plains in Es­sen­tial Val­ues of Mahatma Gandhi? I will high­light just a few that struck me as most rel­e­vant now.

Gandhi en­cour­aged peo­ple to seek the truth – by which he meant look­ing at the many di­men­sions of dif­fi­cult is­sues and re­flect­ing on why our op­po­nents be­have in the way they do, and try to un­der­stand their point of view. At the same time we should crit­i­cally ex­am­ine our own view­point – in that way we will more eas­ily be able to find so­lu­tions.

The Mahatma goes even fur­ther, urg­ing us to learn to love our op­po­nents. That at­ti­tude would elim­i­nate the pos­si­bil­ity of any form of vi­o­lence to­wards them whether in thought, word or deed. In this way we could win them over, so that they can see the neg­a­tive ef­fects of what they are do­ing and be more will­ing to change.

He in­sisted that we should sep­a­rate the deed from the doer – hat­ing the deed but not the doer – so that all our re­sponses are aimed against the deed and never against the doer or the per­pe­tra­tor.

We will only be able to achieve this with a great deal of self-dis­ci­pline and faith in God. To do this when the need arises, we will have to in­ter­nalise these prin­ci­ples and help them to be­come a way of life for our­selves. The core of Gandhi’s phi­los­o­phy is that there should be no vic­tor or van­quished. The aim of non-vi­o­lent ac­tion is not to de­feat or hu­mil­i­ate op­po­nents but rather to trans­form them, so that they have more love for them­selves and can also be able to get what they set out to achieve, namely a win-win sit­u­a­tion.

This view of peo­ple is based on Gandhi’s fun­da­men­tal be­lief that there is in each hu­man be­ing a spark of the di­vine, which makes ev­ery per­son ca­pa­ble of change.

One can see this idea in the re­spect Gandhi was able to in­spire in his arch-foe in South Africa, Gen­eral Jan Smuts. Re­mem­ber how when Gandhi was in prison he made a pair of san­dals for Jan Smuts and sent them to him. Smuts made good use of those san­dals for years.

The most dif­fi­cult as­pect of prac­tis­ing non-vi­o­lence in­volves avoid­ing in­flict­ing suf­fer­ing on oth­ers but ac­cept­ing suf­fer­ing that comes our way. This is only achiev­able by strict self-dis­ci­pline and fast­ing to gain the spir­i­tual strength needed to ac­cept what we might need to suf­fer as a re­sult of re­fus­ing to obey an un­just law or be­ing a whis­tle-blower about state cap­ture or other forms of cor­rup­tion.

Gandhi schooled him­self and his fel­low cam­paign­ers to with­stand as­saults with­out flinch­ing or re­tal­i­at­ing.

Re­main­ing re­spect­ful, fo­cused and keen to per­suade those who are op­posed to our views, those whom we might see as foes, we have to be highly dis­ci­plined not to al­low our­selves to be pro­voked by them. If we are go­ing to be able to defy un­just laws and op­pose cor­rup­tion and bribery who­ever may be guilty of it, we have to train our­selves for the self-con­trol that will be needed.

Gandhi be­lieved in striv­ing for con­sen­sus and com­pro­mise and not for op­po­si­tional or ad­ver­sar­ial be­hav­iour.

Dur­ing this year-long com­mem­o­ra­tion of Kas­turba and Mahatma that be­gan on Tues­day, we should be in­spired by their ex­am­ple to work for a bet­ter so­ci­ety based on the prin­ci­ples of non-racism, non-sex­ism, non-vi­o­lence and so­cial jus­tice.

But we must not just speak or preach to oth­ers about these val­ues but live them out in our lives. There’s a lovely story of a mother who asked Gandhi to help con­vince her lit­tle son, who was di­a­betic, not to eat sweets. Gandhi asked the mother to come back with the child af­ter three weeks. When the mother re­turned Gandhi asked the child to prom­ise him that he would not eat sweets again.

The lit­tle boy, who re­spected and loved Gandhi, read­ily said yes and solemnly promised not to eat sweets again. As mother and son were leav­ing, the mother asked Gandhi why he hadn’t tried to get that prom­ise from the boy the first time she brought him three weeks ear­lier. Gandhi’s re­sponse? “At that time I was still eat­ing sweets my­self.”

As Ela Gandhi con­cludes: “This was the key fea­ture of his phi­los­o­phy. He would never ask any­one to do some­thing that he would not do him­self. He also main­tained that chil­dren learn more from the ac­tions and be­hav­iour of teach­ers and par­ents than from ar­dent preach­ing.”

Paddy Kear­ney was the found­ing di­rec­tor of Di­ako­nia from 1976 – 2004. He now chairs the Gandhi De­vel­op­ment Trust and the De­nis Hur­ley Cen­tre Trust and is a con­sul­tant to the KwaZulu-Natal Chris­tian Coun­cil.


Kas­turba and Mahatma Gandhi

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