Tuesday, July 17, 2018


After Nelson Mandela was released from the Modderbee Prison in Cape Town in the early hours of 11 February 1990, he, after addressing thousands of people in the city centre, was whisked away to the home of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Here scores of journalists, including this correspondent, from all over South Africa and the world had gathered to greet the freedom icon and to ask him some pertinent questions. At this time I was working for the Press Trust of India(PTI) as its correspondent in Johannesburg. When it came to my turn, after wishing Mr Mandela well, I asked him: “Mr Mandela now that you are a free man, which country in the world would you first like to visit.” Without any hesitation, Mr Mandela responded: “Thank you very much. I like that question. I am bound by the schedule being organised by my organisation, the ANC. But if it was left to me the country I would visit first would be India. This is not only because of the staunch support of the government and people of India for our freedom struggles but also because I have been inspired and influenced by India’s own freedom leaders, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlall Nehru.” Mr Mandela fulfilled this dream officially about seven months after he was elected president in May 1994 following the country’s first democratic elections on April 27 1994. Now some 24 years later on the occasion of the commemoration of Mandela’s 100th birth anniversary, it would be timely to recall this visit to India where he not only spoke fondly of the “deep-seated solidarity” between India and South Africa but also about the “seminal role played by South Africans of Indian-origin in our history of struggle through all its phase”. It would be especially appropriate for all those elements who over the past few months have been sowing seeds of racial hatred and genocide between South Africans. Although Nelson Mandela had made a private visit to India in 1993, it was during this four-day official visit to India in January 1995 when he demonstrated his unbounded “love and admiration” for the people of India. He was accompanied on this special state visit by his political advisor and former Robben Island prison comrade, Ahmed Kathrada, ANC veteran Joel Netshitenze and scores of other officials, business leaders and journalists, including this correspondent. During the visit, Mandela held official talks with the then Prime Minister, the late P V Narasimha Rao; addressed members of the Indian Parliament; addressed the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation in New Delhi; spoke to business leaders; and visited the ashram and birth place of Mahatma Gandhi in the state of Gujerat. But one of the highlights of his visit no doubt was the inter-action he had at the Springdale College with a group of school children who rendered musical tributes to him and Ahmed Kathrada. Mandela and the South African delegation were truly dumb-founded at the musical tributes, which included some songs in the Zulu language. The admiration that the school children had for President Mandela and for a free South Africa was expressed by one of the pupils. This is what the young girl said: “Dear President Mandela. We rejoice that you are here with us today. We extend our hand in friendship towards the great children of South Africa. We were with them in their struggles and we are with them now. Please convey our greetings to all of them. We, the members of the Africa Club of Springdale, would like to present to Dr Mandela and Mr Kathrada mementos of our love and admiration.” When President Mandela approached the stage to address the children, he was given a thunderous ovation and the children once again broke out in singing their tributes to the freedom icon. An elated Mandela could not hide his excitement. “We have seen the magnificent performance which they have rendered here,” he told the cheering students. “I thought when I listened to them that I was in Soweto and that it was a dream that I am in India. I sincerely hope that I will shake hands with all of them at the end of this meeting. I sincerely hope that they will not regard shaking hands with me and perhaps taking a photo with them as below their dignity. I am a friend. I will not disappoint you.” During his address, Mandela told those present that he was touched by the hospitality shown to him, not only by government leaders but also by the most humble person in the street. “These two days that I have visited this country are among the happiest and the most exciting in my life. This is an indication of how deep-seated the spirit of solidarity is between India and our country. This has gone beyond rhetoric. It has taken better visible forms and here we have our lifelong friends and children, who are the leaders of tomorrow, are the best gauge of how deep is the solidarity between our countries.” Mandela then went onto to make the amazing statement that since his release from prison in February 1990 he had been to almost all the countries in the world, but no country meant more to him than India. “I have visited all the different continents and countries since my release from prison in February 1990. I have visited almost every country in the world except the Gulf states. I will be visiting them in March this year. “I have been treated with great warmth in all the countries that I have visited so far, but there is something in India that is beyond words. I cannot express my gratitude for the manner in which I have been welcomed by everybody, including young people from the streets. I am like a battery that has been recharged. And I go back to my country feeling very strong and optimistic and I will always recall my visit here with fond memories. I thank you.” President Mandela emphasised this “solidarity” between the people of India and South Africa when he addressed the Indian Parliament on January 26 1995. He pointed out the South Africa was blessed to be a country made up of people of divergent cultural groups who had played prominent roles in the freedom struggles. In this regard, President Mandela said: “One of the greatest achievements of the people of South Africa, in the short history of our democracy, is the capacity that has been demonstrated in the past year to stand together, united, as we make our way from division and conflict to peace and a common striving for a better life for all South Africans. It is understandable, given our history, that people often speak of this as a miracle. Be that as it may, it is built upon a solid and lasting foundation.”
(Ahmed Kathrada and Joel Netshtenze when joining Mandela on his official state visit to India in January 1995) Then referring to “South Africans of Indian-origin”, he said: “For a nation as diverse as ours, the consensus we have achieved around these issues confirms the strength that lies in diversity. That strength, in our situation, is also profoundly expressed by the seminal role played by South Africans of Indian-origin in our history of struggle through all its phases. And we dare say that our achievements in reconciliation draw their inspiration in part from the Mahatma's philosophy of Satyagraha. “Our visit to India, is, therefore, in a sense, also a goodwill mission in respect of our Indian compatriots back home, a re-affirmation of the bonds our nation as a whole has with their roots. If there was at any stage a concern about the position of minorities in South Africa, that concern was challenged by facts of history and struggle. Today, it is evaporating like dew under a clear morning sky, as the nation forges itself into one entity – with all its diverse components not threatened minorities but part of the majority.” Since that historic state visit to India in 1995, Nelson Mandela and other leaders have constantly promoted the vision of unity and development of all South Africans. One would hope that EFF leaders - Julius Malema, Floyd Shivambu, Dali Mpofu - and other elements who love to spew racial diatribe and hatred against fellow South Africans should climb down from their high offices and instead learn to strive for a society “free of division and conflict to one of peace and a better life for all people”. – ends July 13 2018 (subrygovender@gmail.com

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