Civil Society Needs Non-Violent Activism

Wednesday, 22 October, 2008 - 08:29

It is time for civil society to reflect on the strategies we use for social transformation. Perhaps we need to return to Satyagraha: “the force that comes from truth, love and non-violence”.

We celebrated the second International Day of Non-Violence on 2 October 2008. The day also marked the birth of Mahatma Gandhi who helped lead India to independence. His legacy of non-violent action has strengthened struggles for sovereignty and civil, political and economic rights and influenced freedom fighters and inspired leaders like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. In South Africa, the Satyagraha Campaign, was the name given to the Passive Resistance Campaign (1906–1914). According to SA History Online Ghandi coined the term Satyagraha which means “the force that comes from truth, love and non-violence.”

In South Africa we commemorate this day against the backdrop of violence, entrenched in the diametrical contradictions of gender, race, class and ethnic relations. This is an insult to those who sacrificed so much during the struggle for total freedom of all South Africans.

We are told that a woman is raped every 26 seconds. The continued expression of outrage and horror in newspaper columns is no longer an option. Neither is making strongly worded speeches during the 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women and Children.

The high levels of gender violence are not because of men, but patriarchy and other fundamentalisms. We cannot lay the blame for poverty only at the feet of our new government. We must address poverty from within a framework that confronts the market based economic model which our country has embraced. We need to condemn the inequality that has fueled crime and violence and take responsibility for our actions. We must be vigilant at individual level in making a better life for all possible for all people who live in South Africa.

This is clearly a time for introspection within civil society about the strategies we employ to combat these challenges. I argue that we must incorporate the Gandhian philosophy of non-violence into our activism. While it has been dismissed by many as pacifist and stoic, it remains an effective strategy. I believe it is the only strategy to employ development agencies strive to fight the neo-liberalism and market fetishism that has caused untold inequality in Southern Africa.

Non violent activism remains an option for the voter in Zimbabwe who is disregarded and the blogger in China who is arrested.

For South Africans International Day of Non-Violence provides the opportunity for us to give meaning to the freedom attained in 1994 and the declarations in the constitution of 1996. It is the opportunity to give meaning to Satyagraha.

Prince Nare is the Project Coordinator at the Open Disclosure Foundation. He can be reached at

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