Gandhi championed passive resistance as the weapon in the fight for the emancipation of the oppressed. Can modern leaders espouse that virtue?
In response, Swaminathan Gounden, who was honoured with the Order of Luthuli in silver last month, said passive resistance was not being practised often enough in the modern era.
Thursday marked exactly 125 years since Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a 23-year-old lawyer, was kicked out of a first-class whites-only train cabin on to the Pietermaritzburg Railway Station platform.
This was in spite of Gandhi having a ticket to be in the carriage.
The incident in 1893 was among those which sparked the Satyagraha movement, a non-violent resistance movement led by Gandhi.
A two-day event in Pietermaritzburg, hosted jointly by the South African and Indian governments, saw a celebration and commemoration of the icon’s teachings.
On Thursday, a re-enactment of the train incident reflected the rife discrimination during apartheid and colonialism.
Ela Gandhi said her grandfather had had two choices to make on the day he was thrown off a train and forced to spend a chilly night in the small waiting room on the station’s platform.
“Imagine if Gandhiji on that day had harboured hatred and anger, would he have been the Mahatma that we venerate today?” asked Ela.
She said people need to realise that the way in which they responded to circumstances and the decisions they made would impact on their character.
“On that platform, Gandhi received enlightenment. It shows us that how we react is what makes us into human beings who can change for the better or the worst from experiences that we have endured during our lifetime,” she said.
Gounden said many leaders in the present generation had not been reacting to issues in accordance with Gandhi’s teaching.
“Our older comrades, for example Monty Naicker, practised passive resistance.
“We did not believe in violence, so perhaps they could have been likened to Gandhi. But the times and situations were different,” he said.
Pietermaritzburg Gandhi Memorial Committee chairperson David Gengan believed there could be another Gandhi in future.
“Who would have thought a 23-year-old lawyer would become a mahatma? Maybe along those lines we could say there could be another Gandhi, but not among our current leaders,” he said.
Gengan added that leaders who aspired to be Gandhi-like should not be self-centred.
Ela said that what made her grandfather a mahatma was his knowledge of literature and how he used this to embark on a non-violence campaign as a freedom-fighting weapon.