Champions of Hope

Prem Rawat in Soweto, South Africa
May 18, 2016

Despite its problems, Soweto, a township of Johannesburg, known as “The Heart of South Africa,” is an incredibly warm and tight-knit community. In the evenings, everyone sits on street corners and porches, talking to each other. These days many of them are talking about peace…

“Harm no one. That’s the only rule you need! And in that ‘no one’, you are included!”

Prem Rawat came to South Africa to speak about peace in 1972. He was 14 years old. Nelson Mandela was in prison, serving a life sentence (before his 1990 release) for his attempts to overturn its brutal Apartheid regime. When government officials discovered that the young Prem was addressing racially mixed audiences, they told him he could only speak to segregated racial groups. Prem refused, and the government blacklisted him. He was probably the youngest person ever to be blacklisted by the Apartheid regime for refusing to hold segregated events. Standing up to the regime was an extraordinary example of Prem’s courage.

“The good news is, if you want to bring a profound change in your life, of joy, of clarity, of understanding, this is possible—and it is up to you.”

In 1985 Prem was allowed to return and hold his first event in Sun City, Bophuthatswana, a self-governing democracy inside the Republic of South Africa, and another event in 1991. But it would be 21 years after being blacklisted before Prem Rawat was given permission to speak in Johannesburg in 1993. Since then, many people in the country have been embracing his message of peace, such as listeners of Prem’s radio interviews, inmates at Zonderwater maximum security prison, and a growing number of residents in Soweto who have discovered the Peace Education Program (PEP). The 10-week course features videos of Prem’s insights about personal peace and self-fulfillment, offered by The Prem Rawat Foundation (TPRF) to participants around the world. It was Ernest Leketi, head of the Youth Development Department of Johannesburg, who first introduced PEP to Soweto in 2014.

Ernest was born in Diepkloof, Soweto, in 1975, a year of bitter racial turmoil. Tear gas filled the streets and his infant lungs. Unable to breathe, Ernest had to be sent to Sebokeng until he was able to heal. That makes it especially poignant that he has spent his entire life trying to help others heal the lingering wounds of Apartheid. Through his efforts with the Peace Education Program, healing in Soweto is becoming a reality. Ernest, Anne Wolfson—who organizes the PEP in all of South Africa’s prisons—and a team of enthusiastic volunteers, continue to present the course to as many people as possible in the region.

“Today you have two roads in front of you. One road is to continue and hope for the best. The other road is to take destiny in your own hands and say, ‘I will have the best. And I’m going to do something about having the best’.”

In this full-length video of the May 18, 2016 Soweto event, Prem Rawat enters Orlando East Community Hall accompanied by a brass band, welcomed by 1500 guests, traditional Zulu dancers, and Ernest Leketi who gives an impassioned introduction and greets him with a song. The celebration reflects a rich culture of the arts that thrives in Soweto.

Prem tells the audience, “Not knowing ourselves, we fear that we will never amount to anything—because this is what the world tells us. Nobody tells you, you are successful.” And when he says, “So I tell you that if breath is coming into you, you are successful. Start from that. That’s your first success,” the audience applauds.

Their faces mirror something else Prem says, “You are beautiful. You are intelligent. You are full of kindness.”

They are all “Champions of Hope.”

Written by Francisca Matos