New Delhi, November 11, 2020: Nelson Mandela spoke at length about Diwali on November 3rd, 1991 at the Durban City Hall. Here is the full speech on the Hindu festival Diwali. Here is what he spoke verbatim:
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 with 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 to 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 that wants to woo the Indian people into its ranks.
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 and 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 was forced into jail, exile, or silenced; 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 Gandhi 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 that moved us in 1949 to formulate the program of action of the African National Congress Youth League. It is this spirit that 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 safeguarding the interests of every section of the oppressed community. It is these years that 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. But 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 long.
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 symbolizes the triumph of:
Enlightenment over blind faith
prosperity over poverty
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 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 their 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.