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Gandhi's Vision Of Peace

By Ela Gandhi

[Excerpts from the ninth Desmond Tutu Peace Lecture, delivered by Ela Gandhi in Pietermaritzburg in 1993. The lecture is organised by the World Conference on Religion and Peace to promote understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths in South Africa.]

Gandhiji maintained that there cannot be true and lasting peace unless there is equal opportunity for all:

"You cannot have a good social system when you find yourself low in the scale of political rights, nor can you be fit to exercise political rights and privileges unless your social system is based on reason and justice. You cannot have a good economic system when your social arrangements are imperfect. If your religious ideas are low and grovelling, you cannot succeed in ensuring equal status for women, and the access to opportunities for all is the ultimate that would bring independence to the people of India."

So when we talk of peace as Gandhiji saw it we have to look for comprehensive solutions. I perceive the lessons from Gandhiji's life as being three-fold:

That the goal of the struggle for peace and democracy is for the good of all; not just the good of the majority.

That one has to be prepared to make sacrifices to attain this.

That political power in itself does not result in peace and democracy; we have to work and strive for peace and democracy.

Locating these lessons within our situation today, it becomes clear that we have a long and steep road ahead.

Gandhiji's life has taught us one very clear lesson: it is easy to postulate principles, but very difficult to put them into practice. Believing in peace and a good life for all is very well but the final step is putting into practice what we have learnt or begun to believe in. This final step is what eventually determines the quality of our lives.

There are many questions which have been brought before the Goldstone Commission about the violence in our country. The questions of political violence, the question of police and army violence, the question of the "third force", the question of tribal or ethnic violence, and so on. Yet the structural violence caused by the non-provision of adequate water, sanitation, medical care, housing and social securityall of which lead to the deaths of thousands of our people weeklyhas not been addressed.

When Gandhiji came to South Africa he saw that the people had acquiesced to the harsh treatment to which they were subjected. The indentured workers chose to run away from their contracts or to commit suicide as a result of the harsh treatment meted out to them by their employers. In India the poor farm workers suffered similar treatment and had also given in to these conditions. Gandhiji instilled in them dignity and a sense of direction. He raised their consciousness about their rights and aroused in them a will to resist the oppression they suffered.

The struggle for liberation in South Africa also drew the same response from the people as did the defiance campaigns of Gandhiji. Thousands of people took to the streets to draw attention to their plight. It is ironic that in South Africa such mass action is seen as violent while the brutality in the townships and the loss of thousands of lives have aroused little reaction from the authorities. We see frantic attempts to get parties to sign peace accords, yet many fundamental concerns of the people remain unaddressed. As we draw to the close of the 20th centuryno matter how promising the negotiations may bepeace in South Africa and world peace are indeed pressing issues. So perhaps Gandhiji's life is more relevant and significant today than ever before.

Having political power is therefore just the first step towards peace. We all have to accept the responsibility to change things. We have a responsibility to cultivate some of the principles by which Gandhiji lived. We have to begin to look at sharing and ensuring that resources are distributed equitably. We must ensure that people can see and feel the change and be able to identify a niche for themselves in the world.

In addition to political oppression, we have economic, intellectual, religious, environmental, and gender oppression in South Africa.

When we talk about peace, we cannot view the indiscriminate killings and destruction of property in isolation from the poverty, illiteracy, religious intolerance, environmental threats and gender oppression faced by our people.

But having identified problems, it is also necessary to look for solutions. It is clear that change of political power in itself will not be able to achieve peace. De Klerk certainly needs to rethink the whole notion of enforced peace.

So what can we do to achieve peace in our country? How can we help to build a society where peace will be the central concern of all its people? I think that Gandhiji would consider the following as essential conditions for peace:

That people in power, whether political, economic, religious, civic or administrative power, need to develop a holistic view of peace. If we want a better country for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren then we need to act and ensure that such a holistic view is adopted and that a comprehensive approach is used in addressing the issue of peace. We also have a responsibility to ensure that the community understands and approves of this approach. We must be willing to share expertise and funds, and at the same time develop the community's capacity to meet the challenges of the future.

We cannot expect a new government to change things on its own. We have to take responsibility for bringing about changes and in this we can seek the assistance of the state. We need to develop a climate of love, caring, sharing and communal consciousness as we begin the process of building an equitable society through community programmes. We certainly may be able to get more support for such projects from a new government.

We need to build a culture of non-violence among our children and youth, through actively ensuring that we (and they) do not support war toys or violent games, media, books, stories, etc., but instead promote a culture of resistance to injustice. We need to inculcate a communal responsibility among all our people.

We need to create a culture of work, and recognise the dignity of work, so that we can learn not only to meet our own needs but also those of the whole community.

We need to develop a South African identity, so that we can be rid of the racism and sexism embedded in us through life under apartheid and begin to love our people and our country.

We should be vigilant to the needs of the community and begin to lay the foundation for a more equitable society where everyone may have access to opportunities. The present unemployment situation needs to be seriously challenged and work opportunities created for all people.

These are the goals Gandhiji set for development work in India and I guess they apply to us today. Perhaps only when these goals have been achieved, will we be able to say to ourselves that we have achieved peace in our country, a peace for which Gandhiji lived, worked, and died.

From NU Focus (University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg), Third quarter 1993, Vol 4, No. 3
Courtesy : http://www.anc.org.za/ (Official website of African National Congress. South Africa)