This month, the world is marking 150 years since the birth, in Gujarat, India, of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, popularly Mahatma Gandhi.
Born on October 2, 1869, Gandhi studied law in England and began his legal practice with an Indian-owned firm in South Africa.
At 24, in 1893, and while still in South Africa, he began his lifelong struggle against racial prejudice by refusing to give up his seat on a train to a white passenger.
He later returned to India, where he joined the country’s struggle for independence from Britain, serving, subsequently, as Prime Minister. He was assassinated in January 1948.
Gandhi is remembered and immortalised for his concept of non-violence, which inspired independence heroes in Africa such as Nelson Mandela and votaries of human dignity as Martin Luther King, Jr.
King’s comrade Rosa Parks, for instance, borrowed from Gandhi’s example when, in December 1955, she defied an order to cede her seat on a bus in segregation-era Alabama, United States of America.
And even though King was under the inspiration of such great thinkers in America as James Russell Lowell, Henry David Thoreau and William Cullen Bryant, it was his study and internalisation of Gandhi’s concept of non-violence that shed on him the forbearance from the requital of hate with hate.
Gandhi had been inspired by the examples of Jesus Christ in the Bible and, in England, the Suffragette movement led by Emmeline Pankhurst.
His leading India to independence in 1947 compelled Africans’ belief in the possibility of their own liberation from the manacles of colonialism.
Thus in 1957, Ghana, under Kwame Nkrumah, became sub-Saharan Africa’s first independent state, leading onto the liberation of the rest of the continent.
Lately, however, some scholars in Africa, notably in Mozambique and Ghana, have opposed the putting up of statues in Gandhi’s honour, citing words allegedly accredited to him that show him to have been derogatory towards the Black race.
And, ironically, in South Africa, where he began his struggle to defeat race-based derogation, the masses are fast glomming onto an ideological being that’s intolerant of otherness.
I believe Gandhi to have run the gamut of the very repertoire attendant to all humankind. He was, and will be, valourised as a hero and icon.
Yet, in my view, he had feet of clay. Lessons from his life, times and way of thinking, I believe, could be useful to leaders of today’s world.
One vital lesson is that societies that institutionalise injustice and countenance some groups dominating others mortgage their very founding aspiration of being and remaining united and peaceful.
The other is that the uninviting prospect of sharing the world with people who neither believe in nor live by the same values as you; who often goad and harm you unprovoked, and the pious wish that you could magic them or even yourself away; that’s the lodestar of those who believe in the countervailing power of forgiveness, and have a bee in their bonnet about dialogue, justice, scruple and understanding in the common pursuit of peace.