Memorial that will advance peace

2008-09-22 00:00

Being the minister for External Affairs for India, a country with a population of 1,1 billion, nothing much disconcerts Anand Sharma who has about him an air of assured confidence.

However, even he admitted to being overwhelmed by the sense of history at the launch last Thursday of the Gandhi-Luthuli Chair of Peace Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.Sharma would feel the connection; not only was he chairman of the Indian anti-apartheid movement but he also chaired the World Youth Action Against Apartheid.

With India being one of the first countries to support openly the African National Congress (ANC), he personally knew many of the present leaders while they were in exile or working underground.

He eloquently summed up the significance of the new position. He said that it is about respecting the memory of two great leaders, Mahatma Gandhi and Nobel Peace Laureate Albert Luthuli, who influenced the struggle in South Africa and stood up for freedom and human dignity.

“Gandhi epitomised it and Luthuli advanced it. They challenged the might of those who had the arrogance to believe they could not be vanquished. A common strand they shared was a genuine compassion and respect for the deprived,” he said.

For Sharma the Chair is an active memorial that advances the work of these two icons. He believes that in a world beset by violence, divisions and terrorism, there is a need now, more than ever, for peace, compassion, tolerance, respect and acceptance of others.

He sees universities as training a future generation of community and national leaders and says that there cannot be a better investment than in centres of learning that train a younger generation into leaders.

The kind of research he envisions is looking into the causes of bloodshed and violence.

“There is no central cause and this centre provides a platform for students to probe what leads to people being killed and maimed.”

He sees it as a place where the conflicts in Africa — the Congo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Dafur — can be unpacked. For this he quotes Gandhi who said that the only way to deal with violence is to understand the root cause of that violence.

Sharma would also like to see the centre recall and document the struggle for freedom, saying that it is important for young people who have had the privilege of being born free to recall the struggle of their forebears who gave them that freedom.

However, for him it is clear that the greatest violence in modern society is deprivation and poverty. One billion people in the world today don’t know how to write their name, two billion live on less than $2 a day and one billion face a huge food crisis.

He sees this as an area where nations can co-operate and says that the time has come for Africa and Asia to make their own contribution.

“What we see in the world today is that we all want prosperity, but we want that to percolate down to the most disadvantaged.”

Sharma recalled the words of Luthuli who said a chief is the servant of the people.

“This is Africa’s age, the dawn of fulfilment and ours has to be a fight for noble values and to keep the younger generation connected to that message.

In the conclusion to his keynote address at the launch of the Chair Of Peace Studies, Sharma quoted Martin Luther King jnr on Gandhi, who said: “If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving towards a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore Gandhi at our own risk.”

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