South African President Cyril Ramaphosa delivering the first Gandhi-Mandela Memorial Freedom Lecture at New Delhi on Friday. (Picture Credits: Twitter)
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa delivering the first Gandhi-Mandela Memorial Freedom Lecture at New Delhi on Friday. (Picture Credits: Twitter)

We are privileged to call Gandhi, Mandela as our own: South African President Ramaphosa

ANI | Updated: Jan 25, 2019 19:31 IST

New Delhi [India], Jan 25 (ANI): South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday said that both India and South Africa feel privileged enough to call the two icons of freedom, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, as ‘our own.’
“We do know about the influence that Gandhi had on Mandela,” said Ramaphosa, on two-day visit to India, while delivering the first IBSA Gandhi-Mandela Freedom Lecture here.
“As the president of South Africa, I am particularly proud that the seeds of Gandhiji's political awareness were sown and given birth in our country,” said Ramaphosa, who is the Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations here on Saturday.        
The South African President cited the incident when Gandhi was first victimsed of the then ongoing racial oppression, also known as ‘apartheid’ in South Africa.
He said that barely days after arriving in South Africa as a newly qualified barrister, Gandhi experienced the brutal treatment of apartheid, when he was forcibly removed from a train compartment that was supposedly reserved only for the white people. “This humiliating treatment of harsh racism spurred him to enter a life of political activism,” he said.
“That is the seed which has been born in him to resist and seek justice and equality among people. He then began to influence and mobilise the local Indian community and helped found the Indian National Congress in 1894. This organisation was the first in South Africa to bring together the Indians, belonging to different classes, by articulating the civil disobedience movement and ‘Satyagraha’ for the first time,” the President added.
“Gandhi and Mandela were products of their time,” said President Ramaphosa, adding: “It is indisputable that they were great visionaries. They were grounded in a strong belief that resistance against an unjust system could never succeed if the oppressed sank to the same level of the oppressors.”
“Their technique of civil resistance coupled with the moral forces of their ideas has endured through the passage of time. They continue to remain beacons of hope for many who suffer race, gender, class, ethnic, religious and other forms of oppression as well as exclusion,” the President noted.
This year, India is marking 150 years since the birth of Gandhi which coincides with South Africa’s celebrations of a century of Mandela’s birth. Both the leaders shared a common passion and understanding of the principle of sustainable development decades before the term was even coined. They understood the importance of environmental conservation of the development of rural communities of agricultural self-sufficiency—a critical process in any nation’s success, President Ramaphosa said.
Paying tribute to the times and lives of two great leaders, who are also renowned as the founding fathers of the big world nations, the President said: “What they lived for, stood for, and indeed what they fought for, continues to resonate with the people across the world, decades since their departure from this world. They have influenced generations of leaders not just in South Africa and India but also worldwide. They have fought for the justice and liberty on human dignity and human rights and on a non-violent resistant process that still continues to influence social and political movements all across the globe.”
Gandhi's formative activism focused on the plight of the vulnerable Indian communities in South Africa. They believed in the innate dignity of the human beings, the moral authority of non-violent resistance to oppression and the enduring strength of people's power, the President said.
While noting the aspects of Mandela's legacy, President Ramaphosa said that Mandela is mostly revered for his commitment to a peaceful transition from a party to democracy and healing the deeply divided and broken society in South Africa by promoting reconciliation between the races.
“The issues they advocated for and how they articulated them, the political positions that they took and the political decisions that they made will always be subjected to interpretations and reinterpretations,” President Ramaphosa added.
President Ramaphosa further thanked the encouragement, inspiration as well as the practical support that India extended during its struggle for liberation. “This extension of great generosity was eloquently expressed by Nelson Mandela in one of his letters from prison in 1980.”
“We know that this support which India extended as an aid to our struggle is due to our deep friendship and progressive internationalism of the successive governments of the people of India,” the President said.
President Ramaphosa also cited India’s first President Jawaharlal Nehru’s speech at the Asian African Conference in Bandung in 1985, saying "everything else falls into insignificance when it thinks of the infinite tragedy of Africa ever since the days when millions of Africans were carried away as slaves to America and elsewhere. Whether it is racial or political it is up to Asia to help Africa to best of its abilities because we are sister continents."
President Ramaphosa reiterated Nehru’s words as “We are indeed sister continents” and bound by umbilical cords of history. The President went on saying that the Indian people were first brought to South Africa as indentured labourers or ‘slaves’ in 1860s. “They have, however, still retained their vibrant culture, languages, traditions, and values. This has somehow added to the rich tapestry of the multilateralism of our country.”
“Most of the people who came to South Africa in search for better lives were subjected to harsh conditions of slavery in the history of mankind, especially on the sugar plantations of South Africa. After serving the slavery, a large percentage returned to India. But the others stayed back and made South Africa their second home. The South African Indian community did play a formative role in the freedom struggle in South Africa, ending apartheid and reconstructing a new South Africa,” said the President, while referring to the Indian diaspora in South Africa.
Underlining the importance of bilateral relations between New Delhi and Pretoria, President Ramaphosa said that India is the first country that South Africa would like to seek cooperation for.
“As a country, South Africa has come a long way since 1994, but while we look back on the achievements of the country since the past 25 years, we know much needs to be done to eradicate poverty, inequality, and underdevelopment. Yet we take our challenges with great vigour keeping in mind a South Africa, as a country, that Mandela dreamt of—a democratic non-racist, non-sexist country—that is within our reach,” said President Ramaphosa. (ANI)