India’s 70th Republic day celebration on January 26, 2019 saw South African President Cyril Ramaphosa as chief guest for the event, highlighting the burgeoning relations between the two countries. Only the second South African president after Nelson Mandela to be invited for India’s premier state event, Ramaphosa’s visit opened new arenas for cooperation. A three-year strategic programme of cooperation (2019- 2021) has been signed, aimed at enhancing the strategic partnership.
India and South Africa share cordial relations which date back several centuries. India actively supported the anti-apartheid movement and was among the few countries that discontinued relations with the apartheid government. India’s protest against those racist policies existed even before the Indian Independence movement. Mahatma Gandhi was seen as a major source of inspiration. The philosophy of 'satyagraha' was formed and first used in South Africa.
The most dynamic factor in India-Africa relations is the Indian diaspora. South Africa serves as home for the largest Indian population in the entire African continent. In recent times, interaction with the diaspora has been a key agenda of India’s foreign policy as it is believed that such interaction will provide opportunities to help India improve its overall growth. The Indian diaspora in South Africa have contributed tremendously to that country’s economy, mainly in the field of trade, investment and industry.
The relationship is aimed towards expanding trade and investment ties as well as increased cooperation in the field of energy, capacity building and defence. Large numbers of bilateral agreements have been signed between both countries in different fields ranging from culture to science and technology. India is considered a useful source for promoting cooperation in human resource development.
To further enhance its bilateral engagement the first India-South Africa Business Summit was held in 2018 at Johannesburg. The summit focused on opportunities for future investment, mainly in healthcare, telecommunications, and pharmaceutical equipment. “Invest India and Invest South Africa” were some MOUs signed, aimed at increasing bilateral engagements.
Private Indian companies have invested in various sectors and joined hands with Africa based foundations. They have also promoted exchange programs for skill development, mainly in the information technology sector, to enhance living conditions of people. Indian President Ram Nath Kovind invited South African companies to be part of the “Make in India” and “Clean India” programmes.
India and South Africa are part of different multilateral forums, like BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) and IORA (Indian Ocean Rim Association). Both India and South Africa need to work closely to meet the growing demands of both countries. India has also shown keen interested in BRICS framing an independent credit rating agency capable of attracting more foreign direct investment. The agency will be helpful to India and South Africa, as well as other member states.
Increased cooperation also needs to be expanded towards Pan-African and Pan-Asian planes. Both countries are also striving towards improving their relations to overcome common security challenges. The major focus is on enhancing cooperation at the United Nations and to deal with situations related to global peace and security. The two countries have also emphasized the increasing threat of global terror and have highlighted the importance of international efforts to eliminate safe havens and activities of the non-state actors.
Although the India-South Africa relationship has strong historical and political depth, it’s time for them to move beyond their historical significance and focus on strengthening their economic ties. There have been several ups and downs in the relationship but it’s time for the relationship to be handled with care and efforts must be made to expand the scope of activities between them.
As the continent of Africa is blessed with abundant resources, there has been increased competition, especially in South Africa, which has strategic resources like uranium. India and South Africa need to increase their energy cooperation as energy has become an important component of a country’s foreign policy.
Bilateral relations recently have witnessed an upward trajectory; the invitation to the South African President for India’s Republic Day celebration is a reflection of that growing warmth. Continuous efforts need to be made to understand each other’s objectives, while more summits need to be held to strengthen the relationship. As India looks to engage more deeply with countries in Africa, a foreign policy that is economically, politically and socio-culturally diverse needs to be directed towards Africa, which will help India gain tremendously despite increasing competition from western and non-western countries.
(The author has a masters in Geopolitics and International Relations from Manipal Academy of Higher Education. She can be reached at email@example.com)