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