BISHOP Desmond Tutu has announced that chances for a peaceful settlement in South Africa are now ``virtually nil.'' There is fear in his voice when he speaks of a bloodbath to come. How many of the world leaders who seek to sway South Africa's future have any idea of what this kind of tragedy means? I saw it in the last days of British rule in India, when uncontrollable riots between Muslims and Hindus in the two northern states killed millions of innocent people. The horror of those atrocities is burned into my memory, rekindled by some of the incidents I read about in black and Indian townships today.
Several dark times during India's freedom struggle our political leaders, too, announced with despair that no hope remained for a peaceful settlement. Some were prepared to use violence if pressed, and all were willing to give their lives. But Gandhi never budged from the stance he had taken in South Africa on Sept. 11, 1906, when he harnessed the anger in the hearts of Indians gathered in Johannesburg to protest racist legislation: ``I too am prepared to lay down my life in this cause, but there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill.''
It was almost impossible for the people of India to accept this kind of language. We too had our Sharpevilles. On April 13, 1919, days after a declaration of martial law, Gen. Reginald Dyer ordered his troops to fire into a gathering of unarmed men, women, and children at Jallianwalla Bagh, killing 379 and wounding 1,137. This massacre of the innocents roused the whole of India. Even in my remote village in South India, the cry was ``An eye for an eye!'' But Gandhi reminded us, ``An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.''
It is not that Gandhi was free from anger. He was angry, furiously angry, at the cruel and calculated exploitation of his people, but in South Africa he had mastered the difficult art of harnessing anger not to wound but to heal, not to kill but to cure. ``I have learned through bitter experience,'' he wrote, ``the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world.''
Blacks in South Africa today are angry because they have been deprived for generations of basic human and civil rights. They want change, and they want it now.
Whites in South Africa are angry too. They fear being deprived of their privileges and luxuries, they fear black vengeance, and they are angry at everyone they feel is trying to push them into disaster. ``I am not prepared to lead white South Africans. . .on a road to abdication and suicide,'' says President Botha. ``Destroy white South Africa and our influence and this country will drift into factional strife, chaos, and poverty.''
Yet these are the familiar tones of a minority government with its back to the wall. Seven years before Indian independence, Winston Churchill was proclaiming defiantly, ``I have not become the King's first minister in order to preside at the liquidation of the British Empire.'' Churchill was speaking for England's past; Gandhi stood for India's future. The British people understood that, and knew a solution had to be found. After World War II, with the old guard still resisting negotiation with unequal s, Churchill was swept from office in favor of a government that had promised India independence.
President Botha too has been speaking for the past. But he is standing against the future of his own country, and many of his people know it.
Most of the British in India feared that abandoning white rule meant ``abdication and suicide.'' Those were real fears, but they did not materialize. Because Gandhi had fought not to destroy the British, but to destroy colonial rule, independence released generosity. Many Britons stayed on as a welcome part of the Indian republic.
Nonviolence can still work in South Africa. It must be tried again, and when it is, world opinion must support it unequivocally. There is no other way to harness the anger of both sides. Whites, blacks, Indians, and Coloreds today are actually on the same side. Their worst threat comes from a common enemy: violence and self-destruction on a scale that cannot be imagined.
Eknath Easwaran is the author of ``Gandhi the Man'' and ``A Man to Match His Mountains: Badshah Khan, Nonviolent Soldier of Islam.''