Lawson Naidoo | Let's continue to build on the legacy of Gandhi and Madiba

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Mahatma Ghandi  Photo: Archive
Mahatma Ghandi Photo: Archive

2022 marks 30 years of cricket ties between India and South Africa. Chairperson of Cricket South Africa, Lawson Naidoo, spoke at a celebratory lunch on Sunday and reflected on the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. Here is the speech.


It was not so long ago that the celebration we hold today would not have been possible. It is not so long ago that it would have been impossible for a cricket team of the great country of India to set foot on our shores. Not so long ago, many of us present here were prohibited by law and the force of arms from determining the future of our country.

It was on 10 November 1991 that South Africa played its first international match since 1970 against India in Kolkata, after enduring a period of enforced isolation from the global game. It was 131 years earlier, on 16 November 1860, that the first ship, the SS Truro, carrying indentured labourers from India arrived in the port of Durban. The ties that bind India and South Africa now go back 161 years.

It is in this context that, today, I am proud to say that, among others, Mahatma Gandhi, the great son of India and, at the same time a beloved son of South Africa, provided the unparalleled leadership and example that inspired the triumphant march to freedom and democracy both in India in 1947, and in South Africa in 1994.

Racist laws 

Having arrived in South Africa in 1893, Mahatma Gandhi's life, like those of many other leaders who came from India, was to be transformed by a multitude of events, "racist laws, racist treatment of both Indians and Africans as well as enduring personal subjugation and humiliation." 

However, two events stand out as some of the most defining moments in shaping the political direction of Mahatma Gandhi.

The first happened during the South African War when Gandhi and other leaders saw it opportune to prove their loyalty to the British Empire so as secure equal rights for their people. They encouraged participation of their people in the war on the side of the British troops. However, the blatant racist attitude of the British, as well as their policy of allowing whites to subjugate Indian-South Africans politically and economically, before and after the war, led Gandhi and his comrades to begin formulating strategies of mobilising people for true freedom.

The second event was during the Bambatha Uprising in 1906. Gandhi led an ambulance corps to help the wounded among the Zulu people. He later wrote in his autobiography that:

"The Zulu' rebellion' was full of new experiences and gave me much food for thought. The Boer War had not brought home to me the horrors of war with anything like the vividness that the 'rebellion' did. This was no war but a manhunt…. But I swallowed the bitter draught, especially as the work of my Corps consisted only in nursing the wounded Zulus. I could see that but for us the Zulus would have been uncared for. This work, therefore, eased my conscience."

Enraged by such experiences, Gandhi dedicated more of his life to the struggle for the liberation of oppressed South Africans. A protest meeting of the Indian-South African people was convened in Johannesburg in September 1906 as a response to the promulgation of the Asiatic Bill and the Transvaal Asiatic Registration Act, which made registration of all Indians compulsory and identified them as a separate racial group, adding to existing oppressive measures such as the tax on the indentured labourers.

The non-violent defiance campaign decided upon at this meeting gave birth to Satyagraha. As a result, those who defied the law by striking, burning passes, or simply refusing to register were flogged, jailed, and even shot at. Thousands across the country put their very lives on the line by participating in this non-violent civil disobedience campaign. 

'Salt of the earth'

From Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg, from the plantations of Tongaat and Verulam to the mines of Newcastle and the farms of Umzinto, countless Indian heroines and heroes became martyrs. While some were professionals, the majority were indentured labourers, workers, and peasants whom Gandhi described as the "salt of the earth".

Over the years, the work of this great human being as expressed through Satyagraha, with its unshakable advocacy of respect for honesty, the truth, loyalty to principle, and perseverance in the struggle for justice, was to influence generations of brave men and women as they also fought for their freedom.

Indeed, the voice that symbolised the American Civil Rights Movement echoed the teachings of the Mahatma that inspired Martin Luther King Jr and many others across the world to follow those humble footsteps.

The timeless lessons of Gandhi are so evident in the words of Martin Luther King Jr when he said:

"If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought, and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore him at our own risk."

As we celebrate this 30th anniversary of cooperation, we ignore Mahatma Gandhi's vision and message at our own peril. The solidarity, human dignity, self-respect, and equality for which he fought and died, are the core values that we need to pass on to the next generations. And those generations will salute us too if we tackle the challenges of the 21st century in the cricket space. We need to utilise today's event to strengthen our bonds of friendship and ties beyond the rainbow tapestry of the human family.

There is a dictum that says,"friends are angels who lift our feet when our own wings have trouble remembering how to fly." In response to the then government's apartheid policy, the ICC stripped South Africa of Test status in 1970. That international isolation ended when the ICC reinstated our full member status in 1991, following the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners and the unbanning of political organisations. 

It was no accident that India, at the United Nations in 1946, took the first steps to put on the global agenda the issue of apartheid and the imperative to mobilise the international community to join us in our struggle for liberation from racism and white minority domination.

Dignity and grace

Tata Mandela, known, respected, and loved across the world as a symbol of the struggle against apartheid and all forms of racism, taught us that neither hatred nor vengeance turns the world into a better place, but reconciliation and peaceful change.

His path from being a prisoner to founding father of the new and democratic South Africa is the example he set through his own 'long walk to freedom.' Through Tata's dignity, grace, and the quality of his forgiveness, he made racism not just immoral, not only to be disagreed with, but to be despised. In its place, he put the inalienable right of all humankind to be free and to be equal.

READ | Freed Nelson Mandela: 30 years on - the legend and his legacy

It was appropriate that this Freedom Test series is named in the honour of Mandela and Gandhi and conferred in their memory and legacy. These luminaries of the struggle both believed freedom was not pushed from behind by a blind force but that it was actively drawn by a vision. And because they did, being prepared to pay the supreme price to uphold good over evil, they planted a legacy among all of us constantly to return to the starting point and say - I am my brother's keeper! I am my sister's keeper!

We are immensely privileged that we share with India a common hero, leader and noble giant, Mahatma Gandhi.

An enduring passion

Today, as we reflect on our past struggles, let us also look ahead to see how the cooperation between CSA and the BCCI can be imbued with the Gandhian philosophy so that we may create a sustainable human family where satya, the truth, will prevail, underpinned by the values of solidarity, human dignity, and self-respect, which must inspire the building of the global cricketing family.

We come from a place where cricket is not simply a game but an enduring passion. We come from a place where our hearts beat in unison as we celebrate a shared destiny and love for the beautiful game. 

Let us celebrate the strong foundations we have built over the past 30 years to renew, strengthen and value the bonds that will allow us to demonstrate that cricket, and sport in general, can contribute to making the world a better place. It is what Gandhiji and Madiba would expect of us.

- Lawson Naidoo, is the CSA Board Chairperson.

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