“‘But Let Us Remember Him Then and Never Forget…’: The Dilution of Satyagraha in South Africa”

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Seminar Date
April 25, 2013
The author posits that Satyagraha as a concept and practice suffered three dilutions in South Africa. The first occurred in 1961 when Nelson Mandela launched Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) without the African National Congress (ANC) or Albert Luthuli’s knowledge or support. Mandela’s insubordination placed the ANC, in his own words, “on a new and more dangerous path”. Satyagraha’s second dilution began in 1967 when South African nationalist historiography began to mythologise the past by articulating that Luthuli, arguably the quintessential satyagrahi, supported the turn to armed struggle. Satyagraha’s third dilution began in 2003 when the Gandhi Development Trust began through the Satyagraha Award to link Satyagraha with those who launched MK and thus chose violent methods to liberate South Africa. The author argues that bestowing the Satyagraha Award upon those who ultimately did not spiritually, ethically or strategically subscribe to Satyagraha (‘the means justify the ends’) dilutes the Award’s potency to advocate for non-violent methods. By challenging morally confused associations adopted by defenders of a sanitised history, the author claims that those who fought Apartheid are not therefore, by default, worthy of emulation and that a mere vision of and/or admirable striving for a non-violent and peaceful society does not therefore qualify one as a proponent or practitioner of Satyagraha. The author cautions against oxymoronically grafting Satyagraha to the ANC’s struggle against Apartheid post-1961. Such an incongruous fusion often demonstrates an allegiance to a political party rather than to Satyagraha’s values. The resultant moral confusion is painfully evident in today’s violent South African society.
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