The triumph of light over darkness that the festival of Diwali celebrates has been likened to the defeat of apartheid and the release of the former South African President, Nelson Mandela, by a South African Minister here.

“This triumph that Diwali celebrates has another meaning in South Africa. It’s the triumph of the light of democracy over the darkness of apartheid,” South African Minister of Communications Yunus Carrim said at the First National Bank, Gauteng’s Diwali celebrations.

“Diwali commemorates the return of Lord Rama with Sita and Lakshman from his 14-year-long exile and his vanquishing the demon-king Ravana. In joyous celebration of the return of their king, the people of Ayodhya illuminated the kingdom with lamps and lit fireworks,” Mr. Carrim said on Saturday night.

“There is a parallel here with our own freedom struggle – with the release of Mandela from his 27-year exile, his triumphant return and his election as President [in 1994], and the light and joy we experienced when this happened,” he said.

The Minister also lauded the freedom of religion entrenched in the South African Constitution.

“How wonderful it is that in a country where over 95 per cent of the people are Christians or followers of the African Traditional Religion, equal space was given to Hinduism, Islam and Judaism in the swearing-in ceremony of democratic South Africa’s first-ever President,” Mr. Carrim said.

“Although Diwali is essentially a celebration for Hindus, its message is for everyone,” he pointed out.

More than 10,000 people enjoyed the entertainment put up jointly by the South African Tamil Federation and the Hindu Maha Sabha. The evening ended with the Johannesburg skyline being lit up with a spectacular 20-minute fireworks display.

Similar events were hosted by the India Club, comprising mainly Indian expatriates, at Newtown in Johannesburg, and in the sprawling largely Indian township of Lenasia, south of Johannesburg.

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