Gandhi the man and the enigma

"What sustains them when the stakes are high?"

"What sustains them when the stakes are high?"

This is one of many recurring rhetorical questions both friend and foe can easily ask about civil rights legends such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jnr, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, Robert Sobukwe, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Oliver Reginald Tambo and Chris Hani.

Coincidentally, Tutu says in the foreword that Gandhi had ubuntu, which he describes as being friendly, hospitable, gentle, caring and compassionate and also open and possessing a big heart.

Gandhi was small-bodied colossus who was born in the 1800s and died in the 1940s.

He contributed immensely to the political and spiritual leadership of the Indian independence movement, and is synonymous with the liberation struggle in South Africa.

A pioneer of Satyagraha - loosely translated as a nonviolent or passive resistance to evil, employing a steadfast adherence to the truth - which galvanised and transformed millions of hitherto oppressed, suppressed and subjugated peoples.

His illustrious leadership led to ordinary people becoming part of almost unstoppable civil rights and freedom struggle movements across the world - starting in India. He also inspired South Africans.

It is not surprising that many other political leaders worldwide were motivated and inspired by Gandhi's words and actions to end up fashioning their freedom struggle methods around his highly disciplined approach to fighting unfairness with love and compassion.

Honoured as the Father of the Nation in India, Gandhi's birthday - October 2 - is commemorated as a a national holiday, and the UN General Assembly has declared October 2 as an International Day of Non-Violence.

Gandhi first employed peaceful civil disobedience in the Indian community's struggle for civil rights in South Africa.

After his return to India he gave voice and muscle to peasant farmers and workers' protests against oppressive taxation and prejudice, leading the Indian National Congress' campaigns for:

lThe alleviation of poverty;

lThe liberation of women, for brotherhood among different religious and ethnic groups;

lThe cessation of caste, or class-based discrimination; and

lThe economic self-sufficiency of the nation; and the independence of India from foreign domination, known as Swaraj.

One major illustration of Gandhi's almost peerless selflessness and boldness is the famous 400km Dandi Salt March in 1930.

What set Gandhi apart from some of the powerful social, economic and political voices and faces across the globe was his simple life.

He made his own clothes, including the traditional Indian dhoti and shawl. He ate a simple vegetarian diet and practised self-purification.

This book is littered with all the various affirmations that Gandhi espoused, clung to, preached and practised unashamedly.

Reading this book takes no effort. Appreciating and interpreting what it means in the annals of the history of liberation takes an effort, a pleasant effort - especially when the reader seeks to comprehend the admirable enigma that is Mahatma Gandhi.