Anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela joined top leaders, nobel laureates and elder statesmen on Monday calling on the world to reinvent Indian freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent approach to solving conflicts. Mandela, who spent 28 years in prison for fighting white rule before leading South Africa to multi-racial democracy as the country's first black president in 1994, said Gandhi's non-violent approach which won India freedom from British colonial rule 60 years ago was an inspiration.
"His philosophy contributed in no small measure to bringing about a peaceful transformation in South Africa and in healing the destructive human divisions that had been spawned by the abhorrent practice of apartheid," said Mandela.
The 88-year-old statesman was addressing a conference, through a satellite link from South Africa, to mark the centenary of Gandhi's "satyagraha" or non-violent movement which began in Johannesburg on Sept 11, 1906, where Gandhi was practicing law. Gandhi lived in South Africa from 1893 to 1914, where he was an active and high profile political activist.
Referring to him as "the sacred warrior", Mandela said the Mahatma combined ethics and morality with a steely resolve that refused to compromise with the oppressor, the British Empire.
"In a world driven by violence and strife, Gandhi's message of peace and non-violence holds the key to human survival in the 21st century, said Mandela.
"He rightly believed in the efficacy of pitting the sole force of the satyagraha against the brute force of the oppressor and in effect converting the oppressor to the right and moral point."
Gandhi, is revered by many around the world for his tolerance and peaceful approach that led millions of Indians to refuse to comply with colonial law, eventually forcing Britain to leave India after around 300 years of occupation.
Sonia Gandhi, president of Indian National Congress which leads the ruling coalition, joined Mandela and calls by former Polish President Polish Lech Walesa, former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda and Bangladesh Nobel Laureate Mohammad Yunus to promote Gandhi's values.
She told the some 400 delegates, which include heads of government, senior officials, religious leaders and parliamentarians that the end of the Cold War had not seen peace as was hoped for.
It was natural to question whether Gandhi's philosophy was feasible in today's world, but that it was possible to use it as a tool and adapt to conflict resolution. she said.
"It would be a grave error to write-off the Gandhian approach as irrelevant to our age," she said.
© Reuters 2007