Filed Under:  Columns, Opinion

Whom do you claim as your mentor

13th January 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Fr. Jerome LeDoux
Contributing Columnist

“I am not a saint!” was Nelson Mandela’s reaction to those who sang the praises of his virtues. Most impressive of all were his total forgiveness of the South Africa apartheid regime that imprisoned him for 27 years, and his close work with Prime Minister de Klerk. But, a bit evilly, he delighted in the embarrassments and hardships of his opponents. Also, from early youth to old age he had an eager eye for and active pursuit of beautiful women.

Rolihlahla Mandela was born into the Madiba clan in Mvezo, Transkei, South Africa. In primary school in Qunu, his teacher, Miss Mdingane, gave him the name Nelson. He studied law at the Fort Hare University and the University Of Witwatersrand. While living in Johannesburg, he engaged in anti-colonial politics against the racist administration, joining the African National Congress in which he became a founding member of the Youth League.

As a young man, Mandela either did not know about Gandhi or he ignored his tactics and his value as a mentor. He embarked briefly on a career of boxing. Swerving into politics, he advocated violence and soon became known as a seditionist/terrorist, adopting as mentor Karl Marx and joining the South African Communist Party. Sympathetic to his fight against apartheid and not knowing the radical beliefs they were dealing with, the Israeli Mossad Spy agency gave paramilitary training to the young militant Nelson Mandela in 1962.

The taint of communism brought the wrath of the South African government down on Mandela, leading to charges of sedition that ended in a bitter trial that eventually led to jail.

Poles apart, after studying law in London, England, Mohandas Mahatma Gandhi went to South Africa in 1893, where he spent 20 years battling discriminatory legislation against Indians. He pioneered Satyagraha, or resistance through mass nonviolent civil disobedience, through which he became one of history’s major political and spiritual leaders. Satyagraha remains perhaps the most effective philosophy in freedom struggles throughout the world.

In 1914, Gandhi returned to India, where he supported the Home Rule movement, and became leader of the Indian National Congress that ultimately achieved independence by advocating a policy of nonviolent non-cooperation. With self-rule for India in mind, he helped poor farmers and laborers protest oppressive taxation and discrimination. Further, he struggled to alleviate poverty, liberate women and put an end to caste discrimination.

As a pacifist, Gandhi became the template for nonviolent resistance movements and individuals when he and his fellow militants brought the global British Empire to its knees in August 1947 without the use of material weapons of any kind or any form of physical force. Gandhi opposed a far more formidable power than Mandela did in South Africa. Yet, civil disobedience, frequent jailing, vegetarianism and fasts worked well. What seemed like madness in the face of overwhelming military might turned out to be the only sanity.

Considered the Father of the Nation in India, his birthday, October 2, is commemorated there as Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday, and worldwide as the International Day of Nonviolence. His memory is more enduring, certainly more respected than that of leaders and generals who accomplished their ends through arms and violence. Mandela would have fared far better by choosing Gandhi instead of Marx as his mentor.

Deeply rooted in the nonviolent teachings of Jesus as a Christian warrior for justice, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. studied Gandhi with acute interest. Ironically, Gandhi embraced as his mentor Russian novelist, Count Leo Tolstoy, who got his radically nonviolent insights from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount recounted in Matthew 5. Mandela cut himself short by embracing Marx – that other Russian – instead of the Jesus-King-Tolstoy-Gandhi chain.

Gandhi’s greatest contribution to history was to defy the conventional thought that being nonviolent means being passive. Practically all Gandhi’s life was immersed in trying various methods of nonviolence as a tactic not just morally acceptable and plausible, but effective in the real world. Since King found violence morally abhorrent, he was strongly attracted to Gandhi’s Satyagraha – resistance through mass nonviolent civil disobedience.

History shows, of course, that, just as Gandhi did, King brought down an entire empire of racism and discrimination without resorting to physical force with or without weapons. Fiery Malcolm X – ne’ Malcolm Little – and his adherents berated King and his tactics, averring that whites accepted King only to avoid the scourge of Malcolm X. So, according to them, King was the lesser of two evils, while Malcolm X was the real thing.

There is some truth in saying that it took both a Malcolm X and a Martin Luther King, Jr. to bring this racist country to its knees. In any case, choose your mentor, folks!

This article originally published in the January 13, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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