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Did Gandhi's and Mandela's childhood and upbringing prepare them for future roles?

von Otto Möller (Autor)

Essay 2014 11 Seiten



How did M. Gandhi´s and N. Mandela´s childhood and upbringing prepare them for future roles?


The following essay will outline how M. Gandhi´s and N. Mandela´s childhood and upbringing prepared them for future roles? The essay will look at the two political leaders within the time period of Mandela upbringing until his imprisonment and concerning Gandhi from his birth until the liberation of India. Therefore, will this essay focus on their family background and their schooling in order to answer the question raised. Later on will I draw comparisons between the two of them and intend to illustrate how their early experiences influenced their political actions. In particular how it shaped and predetermined their attitude towards non-violent protest. This is of importance in order to portray the lives of these two figures who shaped the history of the 20th like no other in an unpreceded, unique and non-violent manner. They both liberated their nation from enormous burdens, which had their cause and origin in the colonial past of the nations. Gandhi like Mandela enabled their nation to self-agency to overcome the suppressive colonial system, whereas Mandela succeeded in overcoming the racist system of apartheid. The political leaders had both encountered racism only after they grew up and had therefore and idea that racism and suppression is not natural status and they therefore turned against racism. Gandhi is often referred to as the ‘father’ post-colonial India, and is perceived as one of the leading examples of practiced nonviolence as a form of conflict management and overcoming injustice. The public´s interest in his life and his concept of non-violence has been enormous even after his death. Especially, since several groups have referred to his concrete examples of non-violent civil disobedience. (Parekh: p.11) Gandhi pointed the problematic treatment of Indians in South Africa out and made it a huge imperial concern and moreover he started the liberation of India by questioning its situation and asking and promoting India’s independence. Mandela and his political party the ANC (African National Congress) worked all over Africa against colonial suppression and racism and soon Mandela who got imprisoned became a symbol of the struggle against the apartheid system. Mandela is a world wide know figure for social justice and an model symbol signifying “non-racialism and democracy” consequently he became one of the ethical and moral leading politicians. Over 40 years, while South Africa disguised its state-sanctioned racism to the wider world audience, Mandela did in a figurative manner represent the movement and to “some extent practically led the movement of resistance to that injustice.”(Boehmer: p.4) In both cases the word media followed their struggle and made their campaign a world wide followed event. Even though they both promoted non-violence they had very differing idea´s about to what extent it is practical.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born by Putlibai who was the fourth wife of Karamchand Gandhi (1822-1885) on October 2, 1869, in the coast town of Porbandar in one of the small princely states and now part of the Indian state of Gujarat. He was the youngest among four children, two older brothers Laxmidas and Karsandas and an older sister Raliat. Moreover, he also had had two half-sisters, Muli and Panjunwar. Despite the fact that “Gandhi” meaning grocers, belonged to the cast of merchants they obtained influential political positions. His father was a Diwan, “the chief administrator and member of the court of Porbandar, and his grandfather that of the adjacent tiny state of Junagadh.“ (Brown 2011: p. 10) Both of them were employed by the prince and therefore knew the power structures and the habitus of the ruling class. Gandhi was widely influenced by the eclectic religious environment he grew up in.

His mother and father were believers of the “largely devotional Hindu cult of Vishnu.” (Parekh: p. 22)

His mother belonged to the Pranami sect, which preached the harmonious co-existence of religions. The scholars do not doubt that her “religious fasts and vows,” (Parekh: p. 22) which he witnessed did leave a lasting impact on him. Another crucial religious influence on him had the religion of the Jains to which many of his father´s friends belonged which “preaches a strict doctrine of non-violence and self-discipline.” During his schooling he did not make a deep impact on his teacher he was described as being only an average student and being extremely shy. The experience of getting married to Kasturbai at the age of 13 year as a result of an arranged marriage “turned him into a bitter enemy of childhood marriage.” (Parekh: p. 22) Gandhi lost his father as a teenager and therefore had to adopt some of the task of the family leader quite early.

Gandhi left for England to study law in in 1888. “He read widely about British and European law and politics, interacted with theosophist” (Brown 2011: p. 15) The Western lifestyle first of all was attractive for Gandhi he was still an unexperienced young man and was impressed by the allegedly “racial superiority and British greatness inherent in many different facets of imperial rule.”(Brown:2011 p. 15) Gandhi grew up in the in the Victorian age and consequently became a person of the 19th and the 20th century. “Born in 1869, only twelve years after the uprising of 1857 that reconfigured British rule in South Asia, he witnessed the acceleration of imperial rule in India as a child and as a young man. ”He experienced the peak of the British Empire and its withdrawal. The British took advantage of the Indian economy in order to enrich themselves “and presided over an increasingly interventionist state.” (Brown 2011: p. 16) Gandhi can be seen as a result of the Victorian age, he used “ships, telegrams, railways, and print as any-one of his generation.” (Brown 2011: p. 16) Contrary to that he fully understood the abusive nature of the British ruling while he studied in England and that the well being of the “British economies was at the cost of the well-being of many Indians.” (Brown 2011: p. 16)

Nelson Mandela, the child of Chief Henry, a polygamist with four wives was born in Umtata, Transkei , on July 18, 1918. Both his parents had never attended school. “His father died in 1930, after which David Dalindybo, the acting Paramount Chief of the tribe, became his guardian.”(Boehmer: p. 11)

In addition to that he is related to “Sabata Dalindybo , the present Paramount Chief of Tembuland, and to Kaizer Matanzima, Chief Minister for the Transkei.” (Mandela: p. 207). It is fully justified to say that Mandela was the member of a “high-ranking family of the Xhosa speaking Thembu chieftaincy.” (Boehmer: p. 11) He was aware of his social status and had a deep understanding and sensitivity of ancestral honour-yet proud legacy of resistance and self-reliance of his community. In his childhood and youth he was at key points reminded of the lost glories of the African past. In comparison with the majority of black South-Africans at that time, Nelson Mandela lived an extremely privileged life, the first stage of which was in “the Transkei and Ciskei black peasant reserves” (Boehmer: p. 12) where he did not as most of black persons in South Africa encounter humiliation by white people. This started with the experiences he made as “the ward of a Thembu regent in the Transkei.” (Boehmer: p. 13) There, he encounter for the first time one of his main ideas. Which says that it is important to defeat “one´s opponents without humiliating them.” The Xhosa youth, like Mandela meet at Healdtown to be trained to become “black Englishman” they were exposed to “an austere Victorian regime that inculcated self-restrain and hard work.”(Lodge: p. 22)

Mandela carried on his schooling in two Methodist secondary schools in which he “absorbed principles of etiquette and chivalry that remained important precepts through his public life.”

At Clarkbury, his first Methodist school he quickly had to undergo the experience that he was not holding a special social status, “as a lesser royal, as many fellow students,”(Lodge: p.24) who were as well connected as he was. They saw him as a country yokel. Nevertheless due to his extra ordinary retentive memory, Mandela at Clarkbury “obtained his ‘middle school’ diploma in two rather than the usual three years.”(Lodge: p. 26)

Afterwards he continued his education at the only black university in South Africa in Fort Hare where he met Oliver Thambo. At the end of his second year at the university a conflict evolved between the students and the staff due to the maltreatment of members of the canteen staff which was made even more complicated by a an earlier protest over food. “This development, which abruptly ended the first phase of Mandela´s university career, eventually proved a milestone on the road towards his politicization.” (Lodge: p. 30)

Eventually, Mandela had to leave the university in 1940 as a result of the conflict. He then went back to the “the regent´s Great Place, where he found that marriages had been arranged for both himself and the regent´s son.”(Lodge: p. 32) They both protested and fled to Johannesburg in 1941.

It became apparent that both, Mandela and Gandhi came from families with a high social class but still were in touch with the lower class. Gandhi was because he was friends with one of the families servants who belonged to the cast of the untouchables. Gandhi was told: not to touch ‘untouchables’ like Uka, the untouchable boy, who cleaned the lavatories in the Gandhi household. He was one of his best friends. Thereby his awareness for social inequality was awakened. Later on he studied Law in London and became a Barrister. Mandela was in touch with people of the lower social ranks because he grew up in a tribal community and therefore got to know people from any walk of life within his community. Mandela´s political interest first came about when he overheard conversations of elders of his tribe who talked about which bad impact the arrival of the “White Man” had concerning liberty. (Mandela: p. 207) Mandela was a solicitor, like Gandhi concerned with Law and both were unsatisfied with the marriage which were arranged for them. Which is an additional similarity. As a result of that we can state that they had the knowledge in common how to behave and early learned the manners of the upper class (which were necessary in order to be taken serious in negotiations with the ruling class) to be perceived as equal. However the both experienced the hardship the normal supressed Indians and South Africans had to live through.

Gandhi got in touch with the concept of non-violence through friend of the family, not unlike Mandela who got to know the importance of not humiliating one´s enemy in the moment of victory through his community. This is a very clear indicator of the crucial impact their early year had on the two political leaders. Moreover, which is a striking fact is that both of the political leaders experienced misprizing in their early years and only Mandela had the courage to disagree with his the marriage that was arranged for him. Mandela who perceived himself always as an outstanding person had to put up with being seen as a yokel at Clarkbury which eventually lead to a defiant action and made him study even harder and as a result he finished the school one year in advance. In these years he made the experience that self improvement and persistence can be successful.(Boehmer: p. 26)

First of all it will be shown what the term non-violence means: “The political basis for nonviolent action, according to Gene Sharp, rests on the postulate that political power disintegrates when people withdraw their obedience and support” (Sharp: p.134-135) And then this term will be connected to their lives.

Gandhi is renown for his believe in Satyagraha which suggest the idea leading in a non-violent manner. “Satyagraha is the instrument of silent and nonviolent protest against certain unjust overt or covert actions by the authority.” (Ghosh: p.12) He achieved his political aims in South Africa and India only through civil disobedience and sheer determination. Mohandas Gandhi work for the liberalisation of India from Great Britain, a unity between Hindus and Muslims and the overcoming of the case system with regards to the isolation of the Untouchables. Gandhi was of the opinion that through Satyagraha and its practiced nonviolence “it yields to an aggressor but does not cooperate. This strategy assumes that even the cruelest opponent will ultimately melt by the sight of his cruelty.” (Ghosh: p.14).

An exemplary usage of Satyagraha, civil disobedience and passive resistance can be found in the salt march. Even though the protest itself did not bring India independence, it did in a severe way undermine the authority of the British and unified the public even more.

The “Salt Satyagraha” as Gandhi labelled it to denote civil disobedience which meant “holding fast to the truth” referred to a South Asian ritual of “Padyatra(a long spiritual march)” which became exemplary for many political movements in later decades.

On the date of the anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in which British soldiers killed hundreds of bare-handed Indians did Gandhi “reached down and scooped up a handful of mud at a beach and declared that he was shaking the foundations of the British Empire.” Afterward he boiled the mud to produce salt, which was illegal. This act of civil disobedience was reproduced by thousands of Indians “which led to the arrest of an estimated 60,000-100,000 men and women who participated for the first time in mass public demonstrations.” This event led to extensive civil resistance throughout the nation. “Not only illegal salt making, but also bonfires burning British cloth, picketing of shops selling foreign cloth, picketing of liquor shops, and rent withholding.”(Kurtz: p.844) The African National Congress (ANC), in cooperation with the South African Communist Party (SACP) had been campaigning in non-violent acts of resistance which were meant to make the government to acknowledge the rights of Black people in South Africa. Nevertheless the aim of the South African government to even further reinforce the isolation of the countries black people trough several laws in the 1950s and the early 1960s forced the ANC and the SACP to change their strategy of non-violence and engage in acts of sabotage to continue their struggle for equality and freedom. On the 16th of December 1961 was the Umkhonto weSizwe ("Spear of the Nation") or 'MK' was founded. The leaders of the liberation movements, including Mandela saw no other way to fight for their rights. The change of strategy was non an easy undertaking for the ANC, since it had ever since promoted the non-violent approach which was inspired by Gandhi. Despite the non-violent stand of the ANC there were several other problems that made the tactical change even more difficult and put off the foundation of the MK. Since the ANC got prohibited by “the Unlawful Organisations Bill of 1960 therefore, if the decision to take up arms became the decision of the ANC as the organisation, that would have put its Congress Alliance in danger of being banned.” (Kurtz: p.847)



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
Institution / Hochschule
University of Kent – Department of International Relations
Resistance Suffering Movement Leader Independance


  • Otto Möller (Autor)



Titel: Did Gandhi's and Mandela's childhood and upbringing prepare them for future roles?