I found this beautiful speech by President Nelson Mandela at Diwali Celebrations held at Durban City Hall on 3 November 1991.
As we celebrate, let us rememer all the values and teachings passed on to us. The essence of Diwali is rejoicing good over evil and sharing the light of love and friendship to whom we may meet.
Nelson Mandela’s speech:
Diwali brings back for me memories of days on Robben Island. Regularly at
this time of year when our Hindu friends the world over were preparing to
celebrate the Festival of Lights we would be visited by Hindu priests. I recall
Mr. Govender from Cape Town and Mr. Padyachee from Pretoria. They would come and
offer prayers wit us and bring with them parcels of sweetmeats. The authorities
were insistent that these parcels were only for believers in the Hindu faith.
Through our struggles were able to challenge the authorities on this narrow
conception and we insisted that all the embracing philosophies that Hinduism is
based on extended a hand to all of humanity. In this way I and my fellow
comrades such as Wilton Mkwai, Ahmed Kathrada, Ismail Ebrahim and many more
joined Billy Nair, Mac Maharaj, Issoo Chiba, George Naicker and others in
collectively marking this important celebration in the Hindu calendar and also
enjoying the offerings that were prepared at this time
It humbles me to be associated with a festival that goes back over 5000
years. I also feel privileged and proud that our country is blessed with so much
diversity and richness of cultures and traditions.
The Festival of Diwali and the history and significance that is a part of the
festival carries innumerable lessons for us all and I can refer to only a few.
We have been engaged in the battle against the forces of darkness along lines
similar in the Hindu scriptures. The policies of apartheid and its creator, the
National Party have inflicted serious damage on the country and its people.
Notwithstanding some apologies for this crime against humanity this party now
wants to project itself as the defenders of the peace and the guardians of
democracy. Today it is this party which wants to woo the Indian people into its
But let us remind ourselves of the historical role that the Indian community
has played in resisting every form of discrimination, inequality and oppression.
From the time of Gandhi, who enabled this community to create the first
democratic political organ in Africa by creating the Natal Indian Congress in
1894, this community has displayed consistent political wisdom and courage. From
the first mass actions during the passive resistance campaigns of 1913 to the
total rejection of the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indians Representation Act in
1946 to the gallant defiance campaign of 1952 an the defeat of the Nationalist
Party’s plan to repatriate Indians in the 1950’s the Indians have demonstrated
their oneness with all other oppressed South Africans.
But this tradition continued even during the worst years of repression when
the leadership of the congresses were forced into jail, exile or silence; they
still refused to accept the national Party chosen South African Indian Council
in 1962. This rejection was demonstrated time and again:
During the SAIC elections of 1981, during the Tri-Cameral elections of 1984
and during the elections of Management Committees and Local Affairs Committees
during the eighties. Generation after generation been the proud bearers of the
mantle of Ghandi and defenders of the rich political culture that Sathyagraha
introduced into the politics of this country.
This I can vouch for from my own personal development. I and my generation of
political activists owe a great debt to the Gandhian tradition of passive
resistance. It was this spirit which moved us in 1949 to formulate the programme
of action of the African National Congress Youth League. It is this spirit which
inspired us to launch the Defiance Campaign of 1952.
It is this unity in action ushered into our history by the Dadoo-Xuma-Naicker
Pact in 1947 which consolidated a political relationship and tradition which has
endured the trials of many decades since This is the substance of the congress
tradition: An unmovable commitment to non-racialism, to unity in action and to
safe-guarding the interests of every section of the oppressed community. It is
these years which created a comradeship among Yusuf Dadoo, Monty Naicker, Braam
Fischer, Oliver Tambo, Jimmy La Guma and many others.
We are poised to see through our long battle the forces of truth,
enlightenment and democracy triumph. Bu this is not going to come easily. It is
still a battle. This past weekend in Durban we were part of creating a patriotic
front which is intended to bring us all together to make one big push against
the forces of darkness that we have been confronting and struggle against for so
Justice, truth, integrity, humility, freedom, are values that the Hindu
scriptures like the scriptures of most other religions espouse. In the ANC we
have built on these values and through the contribution of the people in 1955 we
drew up the Freedom Charter which has acted as a beacon for us in our struggle
for non-racial democracy in South Africa. We have worked hard to build unity
among all the people of this country and for us to come together to build a
peaceful, tolerant and prosperous country. The ANC has been and will continue to
be a home for all freedom loving people not least of all our Indian brothers and
sisters. WE are committed to building bridges and helping to embrace all of
humanity under one umbrella and move forward in strength and confidence to a
better future. We believe that this is not different from what Hindu scriptures
have also been saying.
At this time of Diwali and as I light this sacred lamp I am aware of how this
lamp symbolises the triumph of:
Enlightenment over blind faith,
knowledge of ignorance,
good health and well being over disease
and ill health,
Freedom over bondage
In our struggle we will be celebrating this triumph together. But we have a
difficult road to walk before we can claim that victory for us all in this
country. The Indian community has always supported the cause of freedom.
Now more than ever before it will have to become more visible and in that way
recognised and acknowledged.
I am told by learned Hindu scholars hat as we light the lamp and also pray to
the Goddess Laxmi, we need to remember that from our position of well being and
prosperity that there are many who are less fortunate and deprived and that we
will have to work together to formulate ways of helping to respond to the
grinding poverty and desperation in the country.
At this time we also remember leaders and persons who gave their lives for
the cause of freedom. Now a we remember Swami Dayanand who was poisoned for his
convictions for a free and independent India and who died on Diwali day we
remember the many brave persons in our struggle who gave their lives for the
cause of freedom We remember Krish Rabillal, Ahmed Timol, Solomon Mahlangu and
thousands of others. Those lamps went out and in t heir place thousands more
lamps were lit for there to be freedom and peace in our land.
Friends, I feel deeply honoured to be with you at this time of Diwali. I will
always remember this festival which we religiously marked for many years on
Robben Island. In our struggle in this country there are many lessons that can
be drawn from the festival and the Epic The Ramayana which is closely associated
with the festival. We are on the verge of entering a new era in this country. We
have to light lamps of thanks giving the enlightenment as we go forward into the
future in peace and hope and prosperity.