Mandela: Nonviolence Holds the Key to Survival

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Authors: Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela, former political prisoner and President of South Africa, gave the following speech via satellite to a conference on Gandhi held in India on January 29, 2007. The speech can be heard online at http://www.satyagrahaconference.com/confpapers.asp. Peacework thanks the Nelson Mandela Foundation for providing us the transcript.

Full Article:

I am delighted to be addressing this Conference from Johannesburg, the city where Mahatma Gandhi launched satyagraha [Editor's note: principled mass nonviolent direct action, often translated as "truth force"] just over a hundred years ago. This Conference on Gandhian philosophy in the 21st Century comes at a critical juncture.

We in South Africa owe much to the presence of Gandhi in our midst for 21 years. His influence was felt by freedom struggles throughout the African Continent for a good part of the 20th Century. And he greatly inspired the struggle in South Africa led by the African National Congress (ANC).

His philosophy contributed in no small measure to bringing about a peaceful transformation in South Africa and in healing the destructive human divisions that had been spawned by the abhorrent practice of apartheid.

It is very appropriate, therefore, that India and South Africa are jointly celebrating the centenary of Satyagraha, which a legacy shared by both the countries. I also had the opportunity of meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he visited South Africa last October for the joint commemoration.

I am aware that a series of events have been planned both in South Africa and India to mark 100 years of Satyagraha. We recently had a Conference on Robben Island, a place of oppression and exile, to reflect on the legacy of Gandhi. This Conference today in New Delhi marks an important milestone in those celebrations and I hope it will articulate the aspirations of all those who lay faith in the ideals that Mahatma Gandhi preached and lived for.

I am especially happy that the Conference has chosen to focus on Satyagraha as a tool for empowerment. Gandhi's insistence on self-sufficiency is a basic economic principle that, if followed today, could contribute significantly to alleviating Third World poverty and stimulating development.

It is a strange coincidence that Mahatma Gandhi launched Satyagraha on September 11, 1906 at the Empire Theatre in Johannesburg. Today 9/11 has an entirely different, horrific connotation.

At the turn of this century, when Time Magazine asked me to write about one of the 100 most influential persons of the 20th century, I had no hesitation in choosing Gandhi. I called him 'the sacred warrior' because of the manner in which he combined ethics and morality with a steely resolve that refused to compromise with the oppressor.

In a world riven by violence and strife, Gandhi's message of peace and nonviolence holds the key to human survival in the 21st century. He rightly believed in the efficacy of pitting the soul force of the satyagrahi against the brute force of the oppressor and, in effect, converting the oppressor to the right and moral point of view.

I hope that this Conference will be able to come up with creative solutions to the problems which beset our world today and create a new paradigm for the application of the Gandhian trinity of Satyagraha, Sarvodaya (the welfare of all), and Ahimsa (gentleness towards all) to create a just, peaceful, and tolerant world for the present and succeeding generations.