Highlight the similarities and differences in the approach of Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi in the struggle for freedom of their respective countries? (150 W/ 10 M)

Mentors comment:

A straightforward question with straightforward approach. Just follow the question.

Introduce them in the intro and jump to their comparison of ways and means in their respective countries.

Stick the arguments and discussion to the national struggle alone and not in their personal lives and believes. Some differences :

Mandela tried violent methods in his initial phase

Mandela, Gandhi remained outside office all his life

Their enemies were different and the social conditions in which they achieved their freedom were also different.


Model Answer:

Both Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela were outstanding leaders of men and the present destinies of their respective countries have been shaped by them. The legacies of Mandela and Gandhi transcend time, in terms of the impacts they each had on civil rights and equality.  They were men of different times, yet they drew upon similar principles in their quests to help humanity.  While their causes were distinct to each of their homelands, they inspired similar reverence among followers, eventually standing as inspiration worldwide. They had their similarities and dissimilarities in approach for the freedom struggle in their respective lands.

Similarities in the approach:

  • Gandhi and Mandela mobilized the masses against oppression, against hatred and against prejudices.
  • They suffered in jails, they suffered politically but they steadfastly pursued their missions.
  • Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi spent his years in prison while Nelson Mandela was shut off from his countrymen for 27 years, imprisoned.
  • Their unwavering commitment to nationalism was not only rooted in freedom; it also aspired towards freedom.
  • Both Mandela and the Mahatma believed freedom was not pushed from behind by a blind force but that it was actively drawn by a vision.
  • Gandhi and Mandela also demonstrated to the world they could help build inclusive societies, in which all Indians and South Africans would have a stake and whose strength, they argued, was a guarantee against disunity, backwardness and the exploitation of the poor by the elites.
  • This idea is adequately reflected in the make-up of the “Indian” as well as the “South African” — the notion of an all-embracing citizenship combined with the conception of the public good.
  • Mandela called for brotherly love and integration with whites, and a sharing of Christian values. He engaged in conflict management within a system that permitted opposing views to exist fairly.
  • Gandhi’s vision for independent India too extended beyond the territorial realm. He rejected the notion of a “clash of civilizations,” and sought to build bridges with the British.
  • Gandhi saw no reason why cross-cultural goodwill — an idea close to Mandela’s heart — couldn’t be revitalised and sustained. Without his global perspective, India arguably would not have been an active participant and partner in the Commonwealth.


  • The main difference would lie in the fact that Mandela’s fight was of a higher and different order than Gandhi’s.
  • Gandhiji fought for independence from the foreign powers which he believed could result in economic emancipation and political empowerment of the natives.
  • Mandela had to fight a bigger curse- the phenomenon of apartheid, where one human was segregated from the other due to his color and the dark-skinned were meted out subhuman treatment.
  • The greatest difference between both deals with non-violence. According to Mandela, violence becomes a necessity when government tyrannizes nation. On the other hand, Gandhi was not in favor of violence. He decided not to violate any law as he experienced law in depth.
  • Gandhi initially supported racial segregation which brought him to the plight of his national and himself but Mandela was in favor of equality between white and black.
  • Mandela is considered as a more political and determined whereas Gandhi is a nationalist revival in India. Contrarily, self-determination was there but ideas were different.
  • Gandhi was never involved in active politics in the sense that he never competed any elections. On the other hand Mandela became an active politician after his release and accepted office of power after independence.

WIth all the similarities and dissimilarities between the two world leaders, what remains true is that they remained steadfast towards their end but differed in means to achieve it. Though the world has gained but sadly mourns the departure of Mahatma Gandhi and respectively President Mandela, let us remain rich of spirit knowing that their universal sense of justice will triumph in the end. Needless to say, their ideals are relevant in this day and age, when the advantages of non-violent means over the use of force are manifest.


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