By Nereshnee Govender
The first ever International Day of Non Violence was celebrated in Durban at the Gujarati Hindu Sanskruti Kendra. The world’s community celebrated the event on October 2nd 2007. In commemorating the occasion the Consulate General of India and the Gandhi Development Trust (GDT) hosted a panel discussion and the screening of the film ‘Mahatma – The Great Soul’ on 6 December 2007. The event was held to create awareness and highlight the universal relevance of Gandhiji’s principles in today’s world.
In delivering the keynote address Indian Consul General His Excellency Harsh Vardhan Shringla explained that the United N ations General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution that was initiated by India, to declare 2nd October, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, the International Day of Nonviolence. The resolution was adopted at the International Conference on Peace, Nonviolence and Empowerment – Gandhian Philosophy in the 21st Century in New Delhi in January 2007 to commemorate the Centenary celebrations of the Satyagraha movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa in 1906.
Paddy Kearney member of the Gandhi Development Trust (GDT) facilitated the evening’s proceedings. In his opening remarks Kearney welcomed all present and said he hoped that the event would revive our commitment to nonviolence and working for a nonviolent society.
The moving documentary ‘Mahatma – The Great Soul’ portrayed Mahatma Gandhi’s life and his contribution to both India and South Africa. The eminent panelists comprised of former freedom fighter and activist Professor Fatima Meer, Ela Gandhi granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Albertina Luthuli Member of Parliament and daughter of Chief Albert Luthuli, Ze Dube grandson of Dr John Langalibalele Dube and Durban learner Zaphesheya Gumbi. Many dignitaries attended the event including Member of Parliament Rafeek Shah, Member of Provincial Parliament Lorretta Rajkumar, Mayor of Ladysmith Dudu Mazibuko, Justice Meer from the Western Cape and daughter of Professor Fatima Meer, Bala Naidoo President of the Tamil Federation of South Africa and Comrade Ann Colvin recipient of the 2007 Satyagraha Award of recognition for outstanding service to the community.
Highlighting the significance of the event Shringla explained “The decision of the UN reflected the will of the international community to respect the instrument of nonviolence and the enduring relevance of Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy.” He said that many other great leaders such as Inkosi Albert Luthuli, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Junior were inspired by Gandhi and took to the philosophy of nonviolence to guide them to freedom and justice. “I think it is a great step forward in the world community’s determination that nonviolence is an important tool in tackling some of the issues that we are dealing with in today’s world,” said Shringla.
Shringla also addressed the issue of violence in society and emphasized the universal relevance of Gandhi. “As we look around today we see violence everywhere – violence against each other reflected in the spread of terrorism, violence against the poor and vulnerable and violence against women and children caused by social strife and inequities born by economic globalization” said Shringla. “Even as we are inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s life, let us affirm our commitment to the Gandhian way and let us strive to adopt methods to our present day challenges with earnestness and perseverance,” he said.
‘Mahatma – the Great Soul’ was produced by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs. According to Shringla, “The film is based on original footage of Mahatma Gandhi but has been converted into digital format and compressed into about 50 minutes.” This historical production was shown for the first time ever at the United Nations in New York on October 2 and was the first time publicly screened in South Africa.
Professor Meer described the film as a remarkable documentary of an exceptional man who truly earned the title of Mahatma. “Gandhi led the way against two forces colonialism and racism. He awakened the souls of humanity to never except these forces and regardless of ones state of power to dig deep into ones own power – the power of the soul and the power to overcome these forces.”
The panel discussion looked at the lessons that can be learnt from Gandhiji. Dr Albertina Luthuli described Gandhiji as a true leader who needed to be emulated. “He is one of the few men that contributed to the welfare of the world we live in,” she said. Dr Luthuli explained that the Pietermaritzburg incident where Gandhiji was thrown out of the train because he sat in a first class compartment that was reserved for whites was the turning point in his life. Luthuli emphasized that in SA we need to lead the way in preaching nonviolence in order to achieve peace in the world.
Zaphesheya Gumbi a student at Danville High School provided a fresh perspective from the point of view of the future generations. Gumbi believes that the moving documentary of Gandhiji should be shown at schools throughout Kwa Zulu Natal.
Granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, Ela Gandhi, who is spearheading many efforts in KZN to ensure that the legacy of her grandfather is not forgotten but becomes part of our culture and lives, spoke on the power of nonviolence. Gandhi in her opening remarks said “If we want to save the world from annihilation we need to look for alternatives to violence. Nonviolence is not just an alternative to violence but a much more holistic term.” “Nonviolence is important if we want to keep the world alive for the future generations and to have nonviolence we have to look at changing our lifestyles,” Gandhi added.
The panel discussion was followed by a lively question /comment session and many members of the public participated in this forum. There were some comments and questions about the significance of nonviolence in our society and the initiative to set up an International Center of Nonviolence at the Durban University of Technology. Many welcomed the initiative but there was one question about Gandhiji’s actions in South Africa, such as his participation in the stretcher-bearer corpse during the South African War and the Bambatha uprising. On this question, two issues of importance were raised one that at that time Gandhiji was very much an admirer of British justice and view of life, and secondly that he wrote about his realization while serving in these two wars that the cause of the Afrikaner in the South African War was a just one and that a terrible injustice against the Africans was perpetrated in the Bambatha carnage. He however vindicated the participation of the stretcher bearers corpse by recording that it was they who rescued and nursed the wounded of both sides and particularly the wounded African.
In concluding the proceedings Shringla presented tokens of appreciation to the panelists and thanked all those responsible for the successful planning of the event. The event undoubtedly generated a new awareness of Gandhiji’s principles and philosophy of nonviolence.