What Mandela means for India: A Gandhian, a great soul, an icon of change

mandela-memorialAn iconic non-violent revolutionary, the liberator of South Africa and the creator of a rainbow nation, Nelson Mandela had a deeper spiritual connection with India that transcended the political realm. Known in India as South Africa’s Gandhi, Mandela himself had generously acknowledged the influence of Mahatma Gandhi and India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in shaping his philosophy of life and the unique non-violent struggled he led fearlessly to liberate his country from the dehumanising practice of apartheid. President Pranab Mukherjee led a power-packed delegation from India to the memorial service held in Nelson Mandela’s honour in Soweta December 10. The memorial, billed as the largest gatherings of global leaders in recent history, was attended by presidents, prime ministers, celebrities, religious leaders and thousands of ordinary South Africans pining for their beloved Madiba.

pranab-mandelaUnderlining the unique ties between India and South Africa, President Mukherjee was among the six world leaders invited to speak at the Mandela memorial service. In his speech, Mukherjee underlined that Mandela “epitomised an uncommon humaneness that inspired all of mankind.” “Indeed, his life and struggles – which represented ‘hope’ for the downtrodden in South Africa and all over the world, remind us of the principles that the father of our Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, stood for,” he said.

‘To us, Nelson Mandela was a visionary’

(Here is the text of India’s President Pranab Mukherjee’s speech on the occasion of the memorial service in honour of Dr. Nelson Mandela held in Soweto on December 10).

“It is with the deepest reverence that I, on behalf of the government and the people of India, join the South African nation in paying homage to their beloved Madiba, former President, Dr. Nelson Mandela.

For India, the passing of Nelson Mandela represents the departure of a venerated elder, a great soul. We pray for his eternal peace. Madiba lived a life of sacrifice and privation as he pursued a seemingly impossible goal for his people – and the world is richer for his legacy. We, in India, have long admired him – and all that he stood for – and we will always cherish his friendship and love for our people

To us, Nelson Mandela was a visionary. He epitomised an uncommon humaneness that inspired all of mankind. He was an icon of irreversible social and economic change – the kind of transformation and emancipation that his people had only dreamt of. A towering personality of great compassion and wisdom, he guided his nation, bruised by decades of apartheid and violence, to embrace his simple message of tolerance and harmonious co-existence. Indeed, his life and struggles – which represented ‘hope’ for the downtrodden in South Africa and all over the world, remind us of the principles that the father of our Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, stood for. In the face of the severest persecution, punishment and relentless oppression, Nelson Mandela continued his non-violent struggle with dignity and pride, refusing to be intimidated.

He never diminished his commitment to his kind of ‘satyagraha’ against injustice and inequality. His stoic determination, patience and magnanimity reminded us, in India, of the revolutionary methods of Mahatma Gandhi.

It was, therefore, an honour for Indians to confer upon Madiba our highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna when he visited India in 1990. Madiba received an unprecedented public welcome and was felicitated in Delhi and Calcutta.

In 1995, when he visited India as the first president of post-apartheid Africa, Mandela visited Gandhiji’s Sabarmati Ashram and said that it was for him a homecoming, a pilgrimage.

We, on our part, associate South Africa with the first chapter of Mahatma Gandhi’s freedom movement. Gandhiji had staked his career as a budding lawyer in South Africa to resist segregation and inequality – before he embarked for India and took up, in India, the same cause.

The six principles that Madiba identified as the fundamentals of the foreign policy of the new South Africa – equal human rights, democracy, respect for international law, world peace achieved through non-violent means, effective arms control regimes and economic co-operation in an interdependent world, are the same principles that the Founding Fathers of free India had enshrined in our own policy of Panchsheel.

Madiba often acknowledged the influence of Mahatma Gandhi and the first Prime Minister of India, Jawarharlal Nehru on his own thought process. It is no wonder then that we, in India, attach great sentiment to our unique friendship with the people of this great country South Africa.

We stand by you in your hour of bereavement and we share your sense of loss today.

We have no doubt that the world will honour the historic legacy of Madiba, one of the most influential personalities of our century, who taught the world the true meaning of forgiveness and reconciliation – and steered South Africans onto the path of building a truly Rainbow Nation.


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