This historic visit by NaMo to meet his constituents in South Africa’s ‘little India’ is by far not one to be over powered by his magnanimity as one of the most powerful leaders of the world but should use this visit to strengthen the cultural and business ties that India has with South Africa.
The country that gave birth to India’s greatest leader and the satyagraha movement when Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was thrown off a train due to his color, broke the proverbial waters and thus began the labour of a Mahatma.
Let us give thanks to that ticket conductor who could have averted the birth of the Mahatma by not throwing him off the train.
Yes NaMo, give thanks to South Africa and to that moment of historical heritage that shook the ‘Gora shakti’ – (White Power) but stop right there.
This is where you as Modi must leave here not as Narendra but a Mahatma too.
Do not rely on too much on Gandhi to power your visit to South Africa. Your Indians who were shipped out since the early 1800’s have evolved!
Their own belonging as Africans is visible and not on the historical past of India but using narratives of the current story of India which is similar to current South Africa of corrupt politicians, snake feeding god men and also Ministers with holes in their heads.
Try and avoid any address within South Africa’s Parliament as well. They don’t throw ‘chappals’ (sandals) at politicians.
And, this story of their South Africa yields much common threads like India’s corrupt politicians match what South African Indians have here. Be prepared to tone down your visit, if your subject matter concerns too much Gandhi and Nehru chatter and the usual linking to Madiba.
The leaders of the rainbow nation are done with adnauseam repetition of that historical bond. All relevant credit to the legendary leaders have been lauded, garlanded and erected all over South Africa as you will encounter very, very generously.
If Bapu Gandhi was alive during the time of Nelson Mandela, I am spot on that Mahatma would have NEVER supported the actions of Madiba. He would have not only applauded the arrest of Madiba but criticized the movement of ‘uMkhonto we Sizwe.; uMkhonto we Sizwe was the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC), co-founded by Nelson Mandela in the wake of the Sharpeville massacre.
It was a good thing these two great leaders were born in separate ages. Madiba like many other world leaders turned to Mahatma for inspiration but never accepted Satyagraha ideals to the extent that Indians did. The personalities of both Gandhi and Madiba were total contrasts.
The three leaders of South Africa – Luthuli, Mandela, Tutu – all won the Nobel peace prize not because of borrowed glory but that of the case of Ubuntu – “I am what I am because of what you are.”
The facts we all know in respect to these 4 leaders, South Africa had unwavering support from India in the struggle for freedom. Gandhi did live in South Africa. And the South African spirit won their freedom by their struggle and sacrifice just as India did.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs will condition NaMo on the latest state of diplomatic content that should be utterances he will need to make.
Will anything on what is known as the Three Doctors’ Pact signed by Dr A.B. Xuma, the president
of the African National Congress, Dr G.M. Naicker, president of the Natal Indian Congress, and Dr Y.M. Dadoo of the Transvaal Indian Congress. That pact was signed in 1947, making next year its 70th anniversary, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of India’s independence.
The pact asked for five steps:
- Full franchise
- Equal economic and industrial rights and opportunities and the recognition of African trade unions under the Industrial Conciliation Act
- The removal of all land restrictions against non-Europeans and the provision of adequate housing facilities for all non-Europeans
- The extension of free and compulsory education to non-Europeans Guaranteeing freedom of movement and the abolition of Pass Laws against the African people and the Provincial Barriers against Indians, and
- the removal of all discriminatory and oppressive legislation from the Union’s statute book.
What made the pact momentous and timeless is that it called for joint action on the part of the Indian and African people of South Africa across religious divides for securing democratic rights for that country’s people.
It is important to note that the pact was signed during Gandhi’s lifetime and that all three doctors were known to and were to interact increasingly with the rising leader, Nelson Mandela. Naicker and Dadoo called on Gandhi when he was touring riot-torn Bihar and explained their vision to him. Gandhi became fully conversant through that interaction with the future of South Africa under African leadership. And through Dadoo and Naicker, for both of whom Mandela had the highest regard, he had a ‘bridge’ connection with the real, historical Mandela though the two – Gandhi and Mandela – were never to meet.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi dissects the importance of the Doctors’ Pact to those in India today?
It is not just relevant but critical.
As a statement that reverberates with Ambedkar’s warning to India about it being politically free but economically subjugated. We have full franchise but in terms of the enjoyment of equal economic opportunities, including and especially those pertaining to land use and housing, we are far from ‘free’. The grip of monopoly capital on our natural resources, both licit and illegal, has led to a mammoth and globally unprecedented migration of displaced populations.
The Doctors’ Pact spoke of the need for freedom of movement. We suffer from a lack of the freedom from dispossession, dislocation and destitution.
One African South African, one Tamil Hindu South African, one Gujarati Muslim South African saw 70
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The prime minister, Modi, need not, if he does not want to, cite the Doctors’ Pact when he visits South Africa. But it is important that the ritual invocations of Gandhi and Mandela apart, bilateral trade and technological cooperation apart (for which there will be no dearth of enthusiasts on both sides), multilaterisms in the shape of the BRICS spirit apart, India shows some sense of receptivity to South Africa’s rich legacy, albeit dimmed by contemporary realpolitik in that country, of social justice. And a joint declaration on this anniversary-eve of a shared social justice resolve, would do us lasting good.
South Africa is going through difficult times today economically and in its ability to eradicate growing corruption. We may say there we are unfortunate together. But South Africa has reserved one-third of seats in Parliament for women – a lesson for us.
There is another unacknowledged debt India owes to South Africa.
It is not known well enough, not nearly enough, that the first biography of Gandhi, a brilliant work, was written by a contemporary of his in South Africa, Joseph John Doke (1861-1913).
This Baptist missionary came into Gandhi’s life a decade earlier than the far more famous Anglican priest, Charles Freer Andrews, did. Eight years Gandhi’s senior, Doke had arrived in South Africa more than a decade before Gandhi. Impelled by instinct and training, as pastor of the Central Church at Johannesburg,
Doke sought an appointment with the ‘Coolie attorney’. There was a complete and instant rapport. A few more meetings with Gandhi and Doke became not only an ardent supporter of the passive resistance movement but one of its most eloquent spokesmen. It is instructive to read Doke on the colony’s larger condition: “…our lives are too much centred on that little circle in which we live… We are too parochial… We need a Statesman of wide experience and far-reaching gaze, who will rouse us to look beyond our borders, teach us to legislate greatly, and shame us from our selfishness. Nay, more! No country can afford to build injustice into its walls. Such material is worthless and will bring disaster. Amidst all the conflicting interests of the day, this, at any rate, should be clear: Righteousness exalteth a nation.”
Doke did not know that exactly such a person would emerge from the ranks of the country’s Africans in Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela who would take Doke, Gandhi and Andrews forward to say, “I am against racism… white racism… and black racism…”
None of the South Africa briefs that Modi gets will mention Doke, Gandhi’s friend and first biographer. But some in his entourage might read this and, withal, share with him the Baptist’s definition of a statesman so that his far-reaching gaze includes a desire to legislate greatly against exploitation and to shame injustice, including ethnic prejudice, out of its walls.