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Hinduism at the core of nation building

Nelson Mandela was a manifestation of a variety of human qualities, and represented differently to different people. Yet, his belief in cultural and religious harmony as the central force of national unity remained unshakable. The following is an edited version of his speech at the First Hindu World Conference held at Durban, South Africa on July 9, 1995, sent to us by Hindu Council of New Zealand Vice-President Rajiv Chatruvedi, a resident of Wellington. More than 40,000 Hindus attended the Conference held (from July 7 to 10, 1995) to discuss a number of issues vital to the survival of humanity and synergise the abilities of men and women for a better world.

The strength and the richness of Hinduism have made it one of the world’s oldest religions. It has endured because it has been able to give succour and guidance to its followers in all ages and all circumstances, wherever they may be.

Human civilisation is immeasurably enriched by its vision and the values which it inspires.

Nowhere are these things more vividly demonstrated than in South Africa. Our lands are graced by Temples, Altars and Shrines built by indentured labourers who first brought Hinduism to these shores and those who followed them. They testify to the indomitable spirit with which they sustained community and religion under adverse circumstances.

World Leaders

The nurturing of Hinduism in South Africa has been woven into the struggle for freedom and justice. The Hindu community has given our nation some of its most revered leaders, amongst them Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Monty Naicker, Nana Sita and many others.

In the past, several Hindu leaders were in the forefront of the struggle against oppression. Today they represent our people as a whole in Parliament and the provincial governments, leading the transformation of our society in order to address the legacy of apartheid.

Our vision of a free and equitable society at peace with itself is also to be found in the core values of Hinduism – tolerance, peace and unity. These values, as expressed in the pronouncements and writings of Gandhi and Nehru, had a profound and lasting influence on our liberation movement, and on my own thinking.

The relevance of these values to our society has never been greater than in this time of nation building and national reconciliation.

Rainbow country

If we have been able to aspire to the accolade of the ‘Rainbow Nation’, it is in part because of what we have drawn from the tradition. Our rich country of many cultures and religions is protected constitutionally. But more importantly relevance and respect for the values and the culture of others are written in the hearts of our people and enshrined in the practices of our governments, institutions and parties.

As one recent token of the seriousness of this commitment, our public broadcaster has now acknowledged, the place of Hinduism in the mainstream of our national life.

It is there, at the local level, that the most decisive work must be done to heal the wounds which apartheid inflicted on our society. The Indian community is well placed to contribute to this process, especially in this province of KwaZulu Natal, and above all in Durban.

Power in diversity

The experience of the first year of democratic government has removed the basis of the fears which gave credence to divisive ways of thinking about the diversity of our people. Our diversity is now a source of strength, the strength of one South African nation of many cultures and religions but united to a common destiny.

All cultures and religions now enjoy equal respect, without preference. For the first time in our history, this equality and freedom is enshrined in our constitution.

No longer do our communities need to think of themselves as minorities threatened by the majority. Assured that their culture is safe and their religion protected, they are free to think of themselves as part of the South African nation. They can be confident that their traditions are admired and respected.

Joint efforts

The conditions are also ripe for all religions to join together in a common commitment to harmony, peace and national reconciliation. Uniting around these noble values that are common to our different faith, will help to safeguard our new freedom and consolidate our democracy. It will also help us avoid the kinds of religious tensions which are being experienced in many other parts of the world.

Hinduism has a special role to play in nation-building and reconciliation, reconstruction and development. As we are gathered here today, from across our land and from communities across the world, let us dedicate ourselves to a vision for the twenty first country. It is a vision based on tolerance and unity, an equitable distribution of resources, on peace and friendship in this our South African nation, and between the nations of the world.

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