Nelson Mandela, the 'Gandhi of South Africa', had strong Indian connections

Published Dec 7, 2013, 2:06 am IST
Updated Mar 18, 2019, 10:26 pm IST
South African leader shared a special bond for India, had striking similarities with Gandhi.
Tourists offer floral tributes near a sand sculpture of Nelson Mandela on a beach in Puri, Odisha on Friday - AP
 Tourists offer floral tributes near a sand sculpture of Nelson Mandela on a beach in Puri, Odisha on Friday - AP

Johannesburg: Nelson Mandela, who was often dubbed as the 'Gandhi of South Africa', had strong Indian connections and striking similarities with India's 'Father of Nation'.

The anti-apartheid icon shared a special bond for India and this was there for the world to see when he chose the land of Gandhi, whom he called his 'political guru' and a 'role model', as his first destination abroad in 1990 after spending 27 years behind bars.


In fact when he was released from prison in 1990, India conferred him with the Bharat Ratna, the nation's highest civilian honour. This even before he got the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1993. Mandela was the first non-Indian recipient of Bharat Ratna.

An avowed Gandhian, Madiba, as Mandela was affectionately known around the world, always praised Gandhi for his principles of 'Satya and Ahimsa' and followed his philosophy.

"The Mahatma is an integral part of our history because it is here that he first experimented with truth; here that he demonstrated his characteristic firmness in pursuit of justice; here that he developed Satyagraha as a philosophy and a method of struggle," Mandela said at an unveiling of Gandhi Memorial in South Africa in 1993.


"Gandhi is most revered for his commitment to non-violence and the Congress Movement was strongly influenced by this Gandhian philosophy, it was a philosophy that achieved the mobilisation of millions of South Africans during the 1952 defiance campaign, which established the ANC as a mass-based organisation," Mandela had said in his address.

After his release in prison, where he spent years for his anti-apartheid efforts, Mandela often visited India and invited Indian dignitaries to South Africa. He will be remembered as much as an Indian leader and an inspirational figure in India.


As a strong follower of Gandhi's teachings, he was awarded the International Gandhi Peace Price in 2001 for his peacemaking efforts by the Indian government.

Whenever Mandela visited India he considered it a pilgrimage to the land of his political guru. He said that India had great leaders and great people, a place that he will always admire.

In one of his India trips, Mandela visited a rural settlement near Ahmedabad in 1995 where Gandhi developed many of his ideas on self-help and non-violence after returning from 20 years living in South Africa.


"I could never reach the standard of morality, simplicity and love for the poor set by the Mahatma," Mandela said. "While Gandhi was a human without weaknesses, I am a man of many weaknesses."

A man who led his people to freedom in much the way Gandhi did, wrote in his early diaries from Robin Island about his inspiration for resistance that came from the Indian community that Gandhi had led in South Africa, a country often called the cradle of Satyagraha.

"The Indians influenced our struggle here and especially a man like Mahatma Gandhi. So we respect them, honour them," Mandela had said.


Through much of that protest movement, India supported Mandela and the African National Congress(ANC). In 1946, the then Prime Minister-in-waiting Jawaharlal Nehru announced that India would boycott South Africa until it abolished apartheid. It was a promise India kept, backing the ANC's demand at the UN and at all international forums.

As South Africa's first black President from 1994 to 1999, Mandela drove close relations with India and the two countries forged bonds over groupings like IBSA and BRICS as a result of that closeness described by Mandela himself some years ago.


"We can count today amongst our allies the most powerful countries in the world. We can however not forget for one moment those that stood by us when it was neither fashionable nor easy to do so. Amongst those India takes pride of place," he had said during his Presidency.

His work on apartheid closely parallels the freedom movement of Gandhi,

In a world that has constantly engaged itself into more violence as years went by, both Gandhi and Mandela opted for the path of non-violent political strategies. Mandela admitted being inspired by Gandhi as he called Gandhi a 'role model' in his life.


Both of them led their individual nation to international prominence by securing major political achievements merely with non-violence movements, unlike most of the other nations.

Gandhi and Mandela were imprisoned a number of times in their political career. However, the most striking part is that both of the spent time in the Fort Prison, Johannesburg. Gandhi started his political movement in South Africa by standing up for the underprivileged in the country and so did Mandela.
Both of them eventually became an inspiration for world peace. They inspired many nations and leaders. Mandela, unlike Gandhi, managed to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. In his message in 2007,


Mandela said that Gandhi's ideals had played a significant role in the transformation of South Africa. They could overcome apartheid following Gandhi's teachings, he said.

"India is Gandhi's country of birth; South Africa his country of adoption. He was both an Indian and a South African citizen," he had said.

Gandhi's views on Satyagraha, Ahimsa, religion, self-sufficiency and poverty applied to South Africa as it did to India, he said.

Mandela said the Gandhian influence dominated freedom struggles on the African continent right up to the 1960s because of the power it generated and the unity it forged among the apparently powerless.


"Gandhi remained committed to nonviolence; I followed the Gandhian strategy for as long as I could, but then there came a point in our struggle when the brute force of the oppressor could no longer be countered through passive resistance alone," he had once said.

Mandela noted that Gandhi himself never ruled out violence absolutely and unreservedly and that he conceded the necessity of arms in certain situations. "Where choice is set between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence... I prefer to use arms in defense of honor rather than remain the vile witness of dishonor ..."


Gandhi himself lived in South Africa from 1893 to 1914, where he worked as a lawyer and published a newspaper for Indians.

With great foresight, Gandhi once predicted that someone in Africa would take up in his ideas. And it had to be Mandela.