Speech by Mewa Ramgobin during the discussion on the Centenary Anniversary of Satyagraha

5 September 2006

I am privileged to participate in this historic debate on Satyagraha, which has been our country's gift to all humanity. And, when President Mbeki, from this very podium, declared early this year, that South Africa will officially celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Satyagraha, it was a joyous moment.

The announcement reinforced a decision taken by the Phoenix Settlement Trust, in 2005, that the centennial celebration of Satyagraha will not be merely an event, but it has to be directed towards our aspirations of the African Renaissance and Global peaceful co-existence.

Whilst there is the process of making the festival - kind of the 2006 celebrations co-incide with our national days there is also the call and commitment to have an ongoing celebration of Satyagraha in our day-to-day activities. This is especially so in full recognition of our constitutional obligations and also the declaration of the U.N that every human being on this planet in entitled to, and must enjoy, human rights as equals with other human beings.

In most ways, we have succeeded in defeating slavery, colonialism and racism. But, a debate on Satyagraha in the Parliament of our country has to be seized to address the question whether we have succeeded in defeating the consequences of slavery, colonialism and racism?

There is common cause among us,that we have not, and therefore we are united in our resolve, to guarantee to ensure in whatever we do, that every human being leads a life of self-respect, a life of dignity. And, we are inflexible in our commitment that nobody, nobody should be a victim to the insults of being despised by any other because of one's race, colour, origin or religion.

The questions that we have to constantly ask ourselves - what are we doing to end the plight of the hungry in our continent? What are we doing to prevent untimely deaths from preventable diseases? What are we doing to prevent systemic violence against human beings and our environment?

Do we accept, all of us, the fundamental challenge and demonstrate, through a call to action, our collective will to end poverty and under-development, to end conflict, to deepen the democratic practice; to end communal/ethnic/tribal violence?

These are major components required for the regeneration, the renaissance of the African Continent? But along these, we need to anchor the vision of the renaissance of our continent in the renewal, the calling of the moral values of Ubuntu… Yet another gift to humanity.

It is against this backround the Satyagraha celebrations become so pertinent. Satyagraha, cannot and must not be viewed in isolation of the Gandhian Trinity. The welfare of all called Sarvodaya by Gandhi and in ANC language a better life for all. In the context of current day realities, we cannot sit on the sidelines and expect a better life for all to fall from paw-paw trees or to fall from heaven as a sequel to our prayers for such a life.

We need to struggle, at time, with ourselves, to ensure the welfare and well-being of all. We have to call ourselves into action, into deeds, into projects and programs on the basis of truth and love - this call to action on the basis of Truth and love is Gandhi's Satyagraha for us in our politically liberated continent.

And, more emphatically, on the basis of action without violence, which is rooted in the principle of reverence and respect for life, which in turn is Gandhi's Ahimsa.

In celebrating the 100th anniversary of Satyagraha conceived and applied on our soil, we are indeed claiming our right to declare that whilst it comes from the African Continent, it belongs to all humanity. We need to go further in claiming our right to declare that the African value system at the heart of Ubuntu also comes from our continent but belongs to all humanity.

In essence, these are spiritual values on which the African Renaissance will stand, along side the material and political reconstruction of our continent. In invoking these values and in celebrating Satyagraha, we will also be paying tribute to the memory of Pixley kaIsaka Seme, who pioneered the call for the African Renaissance and also to our visionaries, politicians, business persons, trade unionists, professional persons, workers, believers and atheists, who gathered at Kliptown to give to South Africa, the FREEDOM CHARTER.

This charter became for us, who were engaged in the politics of liberation under the leadership of the ANC a guiding instrument. It embraces the values of the Gandhian Trinity and of Ubuntu.

In seeking our liberation from the yoke of Apartheid, the constant assaults on our dignity and oppression, we were guided by the thought that in pursuit of Liberation we also had a duty to liberate our oppressors and to restore to them their own lost humanity. This might not sit comfortably with some of us. But, in essence it was, and continues to be, the tenets of Satyagraha at work.

Satyagraha cannot be just a part of our historical memory; we need to use it creatively, aggressively and without apology to strengthen our present-day choices to make the African Renaissance a reality. This must be our poise and with dignity we need to set the pattern and the pace for our global co-exsistence.

Our closeness to each other, in our global village, our common achievements in science and technology, has built for us a great civilization and our common achievements are remarkable. But, we need to ask ourselves why is it that we as common villagers in this global village are slipping and sliding away form the very essentials of this civilization… leading to a civilizational crisis and away from global co-existence?

With all the progress we have made why is it that in many ways we are on the brink of a barbarious phase? This phase characterized in our global village, by among other things.

"The demand for globalization with scant regard to the elimination of poverty, disease, hunger and homelessness for the vast majority in our global village - all of these combined with hatred, vengeance, bitterness and wanton disregard for life are for me, more dreadful and dangerous that actual war;

  • Terrorism respects no borders in our village and that our very humanity, all of us, are potential targets of cold-blooded murder. And, if we share this danger, what of our inability to share the responsibility to promote our common safety and security, without which there can be no global co-existence;
  • The assault on our environment with total and rude disregard for the opinion of fellow villagers;
  • The disregard and abuse of multi-lateral institutions in a quest for world dominance;
  • And - for global dominance, whether this be on the basis of Idealogy, Power or Religion… there emerges what is now called "the clash of civilizations"

But what is worse, those who sought to impose on us their imperial dominiation, using race as an excuse believed that we as Africans contributed nothing to the civilizing processes of Humanity.

It is our duty to prove them wrong. Equally with acknowledging our subjective weaknesses, we are willing and able to rebel against all those forces - dictators, criminals, rapists, murderers and robbers, poverty and disease - these forces and more that militate against our continents renewal. For me this is rebellion.

But, Satyagraha in concert with Ahimsa and Sarvodaya is non-violent rebellion. And, until we succeed, global co-existence will be a formidable distance away.

This crusade is a historic challenge not only for Africa but for all Humanity… on the basis of the Gandhian Trinity. It is only when reinforced with this moral force, will we be able to succeed in challenging and changing global institutions like the UNSC to be the real and authentic custodians of the values of Ubuntu and the Gandhian Trinity; that we will be able to succeed in ensuring that globalization and the restructuring programs of the IMF and World Bank do not ignore our common responsibility to extent the frontiers of human dignity to all humanity;

that the disparate and unfair practices of the WTO with regard to subsidies are challenged and won because Africa constitutes the pre-eminent development challenge and that for a global non-violent transformation we in our renewal assume the moral duty to reach out, by example, to the international institutions of the different faith systems to re-look at their evangelical and conversion programs in preference to contributing and creating the conditions for the peaceful, respectful global co-existence of all and all faith systems.

As a proud and confident African who has believed and believe that we only receive in giving, it is our duty to give all that we can, and perhaps more, to ensure that our continent's renaissance is effected, on the basis of the Gandhian Trinity and Ubuntu.

For us in South Africa, our triumphal march to democracy and co-existence, which had never been painless, was described by the rest of the world as a miracle. Based on the Gandhian Trinity and Ubuntu, it is within our reach to make the African Renaissance a lived reality… another miracle.

So that some day soon, not only a Roman, but others too, will proudly say:

"Ex Africa semper aliquid novi" - "Something new, always comes from Africa."