CONFERENCE OF THE ARYA PRATINIDHI
LAUNCH OF A BOOK DISPLAY AND
MESSAGE OF SUPPORT
ARYAN HALL, DURBAN: DECEMBER 2, 2000
It is a pleasure to attend this conference organised by the Arya Pratinidhi Sabha of South Africa in celebration of two milestone events in the history of the Arya Samaj Movement. The dawn of the third millennium coincides with the 125th anniversary of the Arya Samaj Movement, and 75 years of its South African chapter. To mark this occasion, this conference will see the launch of various literature on Hinduism published by the Pandit Nardev Hindu Dharma Prachar Trust. The unique feature of these books is the fact that they have been written in Zulu and Xhosa which, for the first time, opens the opportunity for South Africans of African culture to discover the cultural background and impetus of the Indian people.
For more than a century the history of Indians and Africans in South Africa has been intricately intertwined. We have shared the struggle towards political liberation and together, we have carried the burden of apartheid, seeing in its demise a new chapter of our struggle: that of bridging the artificial divides that a long dark night of oppression opened between the peoples of this nation. I am pleased that this conference intends to address the issue of reconciliation which remains unfulfilled in many areas of our society. Focus shall also be applied on the crucial place of the Indian and African cultures in our rapidly developing South African cultural mosaic. I believe it essential that every community in South Africa identifies its place in order that we may all claim a stake in the successful rebirth of our country.
The political compass has been set towards an African Renaissance, yet it is ordinary South Africans who will navigate the way. Our success in this venture depends on our strength of will to create an inclusive, rather than an exclusive future. The history of our country escapes neat categorising into the separate struggle of black people, the separate struggle of Indian people, and so on and so forth. Correctly, our history epitomises the axiom that freedom either exists for all, or for no one. Our achievements thus far have been borne on the backs of diverse South Africans, working together, struggling together, and, together, ushering in our victory. We cannot hope to progress one step closer either to genuine liberation or an African Renaissance if we are now to begin categorising the interests of our people.
We should avoid the temptation of conceiving nation building as an effort of levelling down cultural diversity to achieve a mixing pot in which the strongest or prevailing flavour determines the taste. Surely the only realistic result of such an effort would be the suppression of a myriad of heritages, cultures, traditions, languages, and religions under one heritage, one culture, one tradition, one language, and one religion. This is in direct contradiction to our Constitution and would bring to nought all that we have worked for decades to achieve. Rather, we must learn to blend the flavours of our peoples so that the unique strengths of one culture may compliment and enhance those of another, and weaknesses may be balanced out. I firmly believe that the greatest asset of our country is the diversity of its people. We are made richer as a nation by preserving our individual traits. Treating our cultural heritage as an interesting museum piece would necessarily impoverish South Africa.
The culture of the Indian people is vibrant and alive. It is filled with beautiful ceremonies and symbolic rituals which give meaning to daily life. This is a culture worth preserving, worth protecting, and certainly worth promoting. It has been an honour for me to become a part of the Indian community through extensive exposure to community events. The province of KwaZulu Natal in fact hosts the largest Indian population outside the boundaries of India. Throughout my political career, I have had the opportunity to gain an understanding of this culture, including a knowledge of Hinduism and the Bhagavad Gita. I am pleased that this opportunity is now being extended to all Zulu people who may read and discover more about the Hindu religion in their own language.
As a Christian, I have explored the Bhagavad Gita with interest, noting that many foundational principles are expressed in my own faith. Indeed, I have seen an affinity in several teachings that have shaped my approach to life, politics, and people. In my youth, my political seedbed was sown by men such as Chief Albert Mvumbi Lutuli. Chief Lutuli, a leader of Zulu extraction like myself, matured in the teachings of the Mahatma Gandhi who came to Natal in 1893 and led the South African campaign against discriminatory legislation until 1913. Mohandas Gandhi was the voice of peace at a time when oppression had already begun to stir the makings of violent protest. His call for Satyagraha, truth force, birthed the long and difficult struggle of passive resistance in South Africa. He also had great respect for other great religions and in some of his writings often quoted from the New Testament.
Not all of us who sought liberation remained on the path of this principle. On March 27 of 1960, Chief Albert Lutuli, then the President General of the African National Congress, publicly burned his pass and pleaded with South Africans to adopt Gandhi’s way of passive resistance. Just a few days before, the horrific scene of Sharpeville had played itself out on the stage of our country’s history. I was deeply impressed by the wisdom of Inkosi Lutuli who knew that he needed to prove his commitment to his own people by burning his pass before he could ask them to follow a route that in the years to come, many would denounce as an indication of indifference to our cause and political weakness.
Firmly grounded in the doctrine of passive resistance and high moral ground, I established the national cultural liberation movement, Inkatha yeNkululeko yeSizwe, in 1975. I remained steadfast in my belief that South Africans needed to fight oppression with a common effort, regardless of our cultural differences. To my mind, South Africans of colour were united in our shared struggle for freedom. It was very painful for me when the ANC began its campaign of vilification against me and my Party, separating us for our commitment to passive resistance, and widening a chasm between our people with the armed struggle. Yet, I continued to work with everyone who was committed to achieving South Africa’s liberation without bloodshed, without chaos, and without destroying all that we would inherit when liberation finally came. These strategies of our peaceful resistance did not contradict anything in either the Bhagavad Gita or the New Testament.
For this reason, to unify our efforts, as the Chief Minister of the erstwhile KwaZulu Government I worked with the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly to establish the Buthelezi Commission in 1980. The objective of the Commission was to seek unity in diversity, so that we could move forward with a shared goal of freeing all South Africans from the yoke which apartheid placed across the shoulders of our country. Several Indian leaders participated in this process as commissioners, amongst which were Mr YS Chinsamy of the Reform Party and Mr AM Moola of the South African Indian Council; Mr HJ Hendrickse of the Labour Party and Mr Rajbansi of the Minority Party. This was but the beginning of a valuable working relationship between Indian and African people and also the Coloured people.
Over the next decade, I continued to expand the dialogue between our cultures and in February of this year, I supported the founding of the Institute for Indo-African Relations in recognition both of the immeasurable benefit implicit in our closer ties and the gap of ignorance which remains between us. I firmly believe that we may bridge this gap as we begin to learn more about one another and come to appreciate the driving force behind seemingly foreign cultural expressions. At the launch of this Institute, I warned that the issue of Indo-African relations is far too delicate to become entangled in the political debate or, at any time, become the object of politics. Indeed, I voiced my hope that the Indo-African Relations Institute would not be allowed to be hijacked by politicians.
I do not believe that the challenge of reconciliation is one which can be met purely at a political level. Misperceptions and cultural discrimination dwell at the level of our communities. It is true that our leaders have the responsibility to promote reconciliation in South Africa by standing together in support of peace, stability and social tolerance, but the attitude of reconciliation must percolate from our leadership down into the hearts of ordinary South Africans, for it is here that social divisions are felt. In the light of this belief, I was pleased to receive a report on the work of the Arya Pratinidhi Sabha which referred to its pursuit of fulfilling the spirit of Ubuntu. We need to understand that our community life is valuable and that it must be preserved. Among the accolades that I have received in my life, none is more precious that the title of Rastriya Pita (Apostle of Peace) which was conferred on me in 1983 by Pandit Satyapal Sharma of India.
In the African culture, Ubuntu Botho refers to our way of identifying with those around us. Each individual receives his or her identity from the presence of their peers. In this way, I am by virtue of your being. All my actions have meaning because they are performed in consideration of other people and, finally, in the service of the people. The true spirit of Ubuntu therefore bestows upon us an implicit sense of morality, unity and community, by which we respect one another and act according to what is in the collective interest. By way of illustration, the amaKhosi of the Zulu people are traditionally catalysts of community consensus rather than leaders in the western sense of the word. This lends an added dimension to our traditional leaders, for they become the centre of community life, expressing cohesion, unity and agreement.
There is grave danger in a lack of understanding of a culture with which one intends to live. In South Africa, we are required to find a means of living together in harmony if we are to create the right climate for an African Renaissance to prosper. Yet often we know very little, if anything, about each other. It is exciting therefore that the Arya Pratinidhi Sabha of South Africa has expanded the traditional observance of the sister tying a thread on her brother’s wrist to symbolise the filial bond, so that people of African and Indian culture may also symbolise the bond of brotherhood in this way. In performing this observance, African people have the opportunity to participate in an Indian cultural expression which becomes better understood as it is acted out. Such cross-cultural exchange is invaluable to fostering a greater tolerance, acceptance and affinity between our people. All human beings have souls which is what differentiates us from animals. That is why religion is such an important aspect of our lives.
On such an occasion it is proper and fitting for us to pause and ponder certain often unspoken aspects of our African Renaissance. There is national consensus on the notion of an African Renaissance, and yet it is often understood and pursued differently by various sectors or segments of our population. Certain people believe it to consist exclusively of an inward-looking effort, aimed at rediscovering and appreciating our African identity, values and traditions, so as to ensure that they can shape the making of the new South Africa. Undoubtedly, an African Renaissance is about making South Africa more African than it was before. Undoubtedly, we need to take pride in African culture and ensure that our society becomes sufficiently Africanised in flavour, culture, identity and traditions so that African people need no longer feel like strangers or foreigners in their own country. What is happening today with the launch of these religious writings in African languages is historic. It is something long overdue. We have lived together for far too long cheek by jowl without this cultural pollination taking place.
At the same time, we must expand the confines of our African culture and identity to absorb within it different and diverse traditions. An African Renaissance must be outward-looking and must bring to African people traditions and cultural horizons to which they have not previously been exposed. A Renaissance is not merely about rediscovering the past, but it is foremost an effort of growing out of the existing mould through learning, knowledge and broader exposure to that which was previously unknown. For this reason, the publication of the most important text of Hindu religious writings in Zulu and Xhosa is an important chapter of the African Renaissance which highlights that the Africa of today includes the Indian tradition as it does the European one. The Indian community is the second largest community in this Province.
Our people must recognise and accept that when we search for the traditions standing behind the architectures shaping the world in which we now live, we will not find them within the narrow confines of our African tradition, but in six millennia of architectural development of other continents of the world. Similarly, the same can be said in respect of most of the technological aspects shaping our lives, as well as the concepts and patterns of thought which we now employ. An African Renaissance is about absorbing within our African culture the Western traditions and the Asian traditions alike. No other country has the unique blessing of being able to bring about this synthesis of cultures and traditions, which can only take place within a framework of dedicated learning and mutual respect.
As we develop an increasing respect for one another, so too will our self-respect grow. Indeed, it is only when we understand our role in interaction and exchange with those around us, that we are able to establish our place within society. As this conference investigates the place that the Indian and African cultures will take in the developing cultural mosaic of South Africa, it is essential that we also look further at the important role which South Africa and India must play in the south-south axis we find ourselves occupying. These two countries are strategically positioned as major role players in the Indian Ocean Rim initiative, and we must seek to discover ways to capitalise on this fact for the benefit of all our people.
Our beautiful city of Durban stands as a pillar of a bridge which together we must build across the Indian Ocean, to bring Africa and Asia closer together in a framework of mutual co-operation and joint efforts for development. In this respect, I believe that our Indian community can play the role of an engine of development, both through its own ingenuity and industriousness, and by means of the connections which it can facilitate with vast segments of Asia. Your great civilisation of so many centuries is an important segment of our multi-culture.
The Indian community in South Africa cannot be seen as separate from anyone who experienced the oppression, segregation, apartheid, liberation and democratic transformation of our country. I am pleased that this conference is bringing together many Indian activists who engaged their lives in the struggle for South Africa’s freedom. To these, and to everyone attending this conference, I wish to extend my congratulations and gratitude. I believe that we have much to congratulate one another on, and it is sad that many of those who dedicated their life’s work to bringing us this far, have never been personally thanked. Surely, our thanks are in seeing all our people empowered by democracy to demand a leadership which recognises at last that we are all equally citizens of South Africa, and all equally entitled to a South Africa that appreciates our diversity.
I would hope that through this conference, we may gain a better understanding of what is needed to promote reconciliation at community level between our country’s diverse cultures. I wish also to take this opportunity to welcome the many foreign delegates who may enrich the debate on the role which Indian and African cultures may play as the history of our beautiful country unfolds. I am excited by the prospect of what South Africa may achieve in this new millennium, for I believe that we have the capacity to generate a powerful revolution of goodwill which will take us across the illusory divides and into a common effort for prosperity, stability and growth.
With these words, I launch the book display and the new publications of the Sabha. May these books shed light on the path we must walk to find one another and fulfil our mutual destiny. May God bless this conference.