Walk­ers hon­our Man­dela, Gandhi


ONE Japanese and five In­dian fol­low­ers of Ma­hatma Gandhi and Nel­son Man­dela are walk­ing across South Africa to Bud­dhist chants and drum beats, pro­mot­ing the two lead­ers’ idea of non­vi­o­lence and peace.

This year marked the 150th an­niver­sary of Gandhi’s birth and Man­dela’s cen­te­nary.

The peace pil­grim­age reached a mile­stone last week when the walk­ers reached their half­way-mark – be­tween their start­ing point at Con­sti­tu­tional Hill in Jo­han­nes­burg, and Madiba’s birth­place at Mvezo in the East­ern Cape, and the Nel­son Man­dela cap­ture site in the Mid­lands.

With “not a pe­sai (In­dia’s equiv­a­lent of a cent) in our pock­ets”, they ask peo­ple along the way for food and shel­ter as a way of en­gag­ing with the locals.

“Our mes­sage to hu­man­ity is that we can live in har­mony,” said Nitin Son­wane, who has cho­sen to travel the world on sim­i­lar peace pil­grim­ages – mostly alone and by bi­cy­cle – rather than fol­low a ca­reer in engineering.

Aware of the high vi­o­lent crime rate in South Africa, which he said was the re­sult of the gap be­tween rich and poor, Son­wane and his companions have en­coun­tered only friend­ship, good­will, do­na­tions and hos­pi­tal­ity.

“I feel bad for the peo­ple who mur­der. They are mis­er­able be­cause of the in­equal­ity in this so­ci­ety. The best way (to solve the prob­lem) is to build an equal so­ci­ety, like Gandhi and Man­dela en­vis­aged.”

Son­wane said the group, not hav­ing any­thing to steal, was their big­gest shield against fall­ing vic­tim to crime.

“We are part of them,” he went on to say. “We feel bad for them. We must be kind to peo­ple who com­mit crime, and trans­form them to liv­ing a life in a nor­mal so­ci­ety.”

They greet passers-by with a bow, an act which tells them that he or she is an equal hu­man be­ing.

While Kan­shin Ikeda, from Ja­pan, is a Bud­dhist monk, the rest have re­li­gious roots in Hin­duism, Chris­tian­ity and Is­lam.

Yo­gesh Mathuria, who gave up an IT ca­reer 11 years ago to work on world peace projects, has a fore­arm tat­too with texts re­lat­ing to his un­der­stand­ing of spir­i­tu­al­ity.

“The high­est pri­or­ity is that you are a hu­man be­ing, then you may be­long to a re­li­gion. A divine force – what­ever you call it – cre­ated hu­man be­ings and hu­man be­ings cre­ated re­li­gion and that cre­ated a di­vide. I be­lieve to­day that re­li­gion is the big­gest di­vider in the world.”

The group’s ex­pert on Gandhi’s prin­ci­ples is Ja­land­har­nath Chan­nole, who has spent 28 years in a Gandhi ashram, choos­ing not to marry and wear­ing sim­ple clothes made of home­spun fab­ric.

San­gram Patilb, an MBA stu­dent, said he val­ued “learn­ing South African cul­ture and ex­plore my­self”.

In KwaZulu-Na­tal they have stayed at po­lice sta­tions and at In­gogo, near New­cas­tle, they were in­vited into a Zulu ron­davel home­stead to cook their food.

They were also in­vited to a game farm near Lady­smith and have been re­ferred to bed and break­fasts.

They ar­rived in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg on Fri­day and were sched­uled to visit the Gandhi’s Phoenix Set­tle­ment yes­ter­day.


WALK­ERS, from left, San­gram Patil, Ja­land­har­nath Chan­nole, Yo­gesh Mathuria, Nitin Son­wane and Kan­shin Ikeda, at the Nel­son Man­dela Cap­ture Site in the Mid­lands. They are travers­ing the coun­try spread­ing the mes­sages of po­lit­i­cal icons Nel­son Man­dela and Ma­hatma Gandhi.

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