Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

From Apartheid to Tolerance South African President, Wooing Indian Voters, Extolls Mahatma Gandhi's Commitment to Peace

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

From Apartheid to Tolerance South African President, Wooing Indian Voters, Extolls Mahatma Gandhi's Commitment to Peace

Article excerpt

THE sight of President Frederik de Klerk, for nearly two decades a key figure in the apartheid regime, standing at the foot of Mahatma Gandhi's statue here and extolling his commitment to peace reminds one of the speed of South Africa's metamorphosis. Seldom, if ever, has a leader performed such a complete political somersault and had so many victims of the system he once served singing his praises.

"We stand here next to the statue of a great man," proclaimed Mr. De Klerk from the steps of the town hall sporting a colorful wreath of flowers - an Indian symbol of peace - around his neck.

"He is one of the greatest men in the history of the Indian nation ... who was determined to resist political violence and intimidation.

"What would the great Gandhi have said about the intimidation of the African National Congress {ANC} and other parties in this election?" De Klerk asked during the second of 18 speeches in a two-day election roadshow in troubled Natal Province. "I say Gandhi would have said this intimidation is a form of violence, and we must stand up against it."

Several Indians in the crowd said Gandhi would have supported De Klerk's efforts.

Gandhi, a name that invokes reverence in ANC circles, has become a symbol here of resistance to another form of intimidation: apartheid. But the irony escaped De Klerk and his new-found converts.

Gandhi came to the British colony of Natal in 1888 as a young lawyer and remained for 25 years. One of his most formative experiences, shortly after arriving here, occurred when he was thrown off a train after he refused an order to leave the first-class section because it was reserved for whites only.

In 1894, he founded the Natal Indian Congress, which remains a mainstay of the ANC today. During his stay, he launched campaigns of passive resistance against anti-Indian discrimination in the Boer Republic of Transvaal in 1906, the colonial regime in Natal in 1908, and the government of the Union of South Africa in 1913. …

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