INDIA-SOUTH AFRICA: AFRO-ASIAN Cultural Solidarity

South Africa 2017 Special Report, By AVILASH ROUL (PH.D.)

In July 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the train journey in South Africa (bilateral visit after 10 years by an Indian Prime Minister) to recollect Gandhi's journey over 100 years earlier under colonial regime

Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi on the train from Pentrich Railway Station to Pietermaritzburg, in South Africa on July 09, 2016India and South Africa - two emerging powers - have shared a historical relationship dating back to the period of indentured labourers, thereafter voyage of 'passenger Indians’ and most remarkably Mahatma Gandhi’s travel to South Africa. The magnitudes of their potential mutual contribution to the world, especially in two underprivileged continents have not been fully exploited yet. Besides ongoing strategic bilateral relations, both countries have enormous avenues in various spheres - art, culture, tourism, sports and the most important, galaxy of peoples’ practices and knowledge - which has been witnessing gradual upward movement.

Heritage of Common Struggle

Culture, as a powerful instrument of foreign policy, has been underestimated in the age of fast paced communication. With the present government at the helm of affairs in India, there is a sheer optimism that it would achieve potential in sharing and contributing on nation-building vis-a-vis South Africa in a mutually respectable and harmonious way. In July 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the train journey in South Africa (bilateral visit after 10 years by an Indian Prime Minister) to recollect Gandhi’s journey over 100 years earlier under colonial regime. The struggle for independence is the foremost cultural heritage linking two equally diverse nations. India holds a place of honour due to its mobilisation of moral, political and material support against the apartheid regime.

During and post-Apartheid, several high-level dignitaries have been visiting India to continue the trust and friendship. From 'Focus Africa' in 2000s to 'New Era of India-Africa Relation' of present government's foreign policy, president of India, Prime Ministers and other high level delegates reached South Africa to cement the ties. Since assuming office in 2014, Indian Prime Minister has met six times with President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, which entails the warmth shared by two leaders. As primus inter pares representing India's inclusive grand cultural heritage, PM Modi has accelerated the trajectory of broad cultural exchanges. Both countries signed a bilateral Cultural Framework Agreement in 1996, which facilitates cultural relations between two countries. During President Thabo Mbeki's visit to India in 2003, the Program for Cultural Cooperation was agreed in the field of design, theatre, exhibition of contemporary arts and film festivals. Similar MoU was signed during PM Modi's visit in 2016.

More people are watching on-field cricket rivalry between South Africa and India than India's erstwhile arch rival, Pakistan playing against India. In rural India, where the cricket is much sought after, names of players of South African cricket team are on the fingertips of young school going boys. One out of five Hindi movies brings breathtakingly picturesque South Africa to Indian movie theatres and living rooms in addition to international channels showcasing travels, food, culture and unexplored sites. Many Hindi movies and some regional movies are on the lookout for locations in South Africa than Europe for their stories to be told around the world. As India is poised to leap forward with its growing middle class and absolute youth power, it is the arts, science, sports, culture, vocations as well as vacations which have to be the medium to reach out to the world.

Sport - The Social Leveller and Peace

If the ace pacer Allan Donald is followed by urban youth in India for his utter accuracy, youngsters in rural India have been imitating Jonty Rhodes famous dives at the gully to stop a boundary or two during their local cricket matches and practices. Once former President Nelson Mandela mentioned that he 'was overshadowed in India by these stalwarts due to their popularity'.

After years of isolation from the international cricket due to apartheid, South Africa genuinely preferred to play against India for a three-match one-day series in India. Thousands of fans greeted South Africans with open arms and warmth. Even after defeat, the visitors returned home with cherished memories of the responses from the Indian public. An emotional captain Clive Rice said, “I know how Neil Armstrong felt when he stood on the moon.” Subsequently, India had the privilege of being the first international side to play a Test in South Africa. In the various formats of international cricket, both countries are keenly competing to score more to set their world rankings. For example, India ranks 1st in Test Cricket (South Africa – 3rd), 3rd in One Day (South Africa – 2nd) and 2nd in T20 (South Africa – 3rd). The intense competition is better for youngsters in both countries as well as for the world of sports.

Commercially high octane Indian Premier League (IPL) matches are getting more exciting and entertaining with the addition of 14 players from South Africa, which has so far regularly represented one of the sides. If Jonty Rhodes named his daughter as 'India', the parents of AB de Villiers, captain of 2015 World Cup South Africa team who presently plays for Bangalore Royal Challengers in IPL, feel that India is their son's second home. The women cricket of both countries has not been far behind to inspire young girls to join the professional cricket. Besides cricket, hockey has been another high-profile sport between the two countries. Football or soccer is another sport of growing interest. Under 17 BRICS Soccer Tournament for Goa BRICS Summit gave the game a big fillip. With PM Modi's overall thrust on sport, India would appreciate if 'Rugby' can be taught and popularised by experts from South Africa like cricket. Another area of exchanges, sharing knowledge and building capacity is 'golf' as both countries are having tremendous expertise and players. There is also a window of collaboration in the arena of football. Can India intend to help 'Proteas' to play Kabbadi- game of the masses? India only once hosted Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad in 2003. Under PM Modi, India must propose to organise another Afro-Asian Games in 2019 to bring athletes from these two continents together for one event.

Promoting Safe, Honourable and Sustainable Tourism

Tourism is one such area where both countries need to work together and more rapidly to meet its potential. A MoU on Tourism cooperation was signed during Modi's visit in July 2016, which aims to expand bilateral cooperation in the tourism sector and to exchange information and data related to tourism. The MoU also encourages cooperation between tourism stakeholders, including hotels and tour operators. According to sources, nearly 1, 20,000 Indians visited South Africa in 2016.

One of the objectives of MoU is to establish exchange programs for cooperation in Human Resource Development and investment in the tourism and hospitality sector. It also encourages visits of tour operators, journalists, opinion makers and tourists from both countries for promotion of two-way tourism. South Africa is an emerging tourism source market for India (India received approximately 51,922 tourists from South Africa in 2015). After extending the Electronic Tourist Visa (eTV) facility to South African nationals, there is a growth in inbound tourists. South Africa has extended 10-year multiple entry Business Visa to business persons from BRICS countries.

South African government has provided 'Madiba's Journey' - Madiba-inspired tourist attractions, Nelson Mandela's journey to freedom, places of cultural importance, a mobile application (app) to streamline and attract visitors across the globe. Similarly, South Africa government had done roadshows in early 2016 in India to attract tourists from India. South African government has already trained 3,300 chefs to cook various Indian vegetarian dishes to woo tourists from all over India.

Indian side has been very optimistic to connect to destinations in Africa by air after recent Cabinet clearance on open sky policy. Even South African counterpart is rethinking to connect Johannesburg and Mumbai flight, which was stopped few years ago. Both countries' leaders expressed the desire to broaden people-to-people interactions, and to increase two-way tourism.

From addressing global issues in BRICS (climate change, ocean governance, environmental protection) to eradication of poverty through development finance (IBSA, NDB), both countries have forged tremendous camaraderie with warm bilateral cooperation. As both are emerging economic powers, it's time to transform potential powerhouses into reality by helping not only citizens of both countries, but transforming world into a better place to live in. If Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu thanked India for giving Mahatma to South Africa, presently India's ultimate cultural message should be in letter and spirit as 'unity in diversity', which India is managing successfully. Cultural exchanges should not be restricted to bureaucratisation, showcasing or marketisation or confined to embassies and consulates of both countries. A free flow of dialogue between two massive diverse cultures needs unrestricted flow of ideas, people, knowledge and more distinctly beyond official cultural institutions. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already cleared the path for free flow of exchanges. The time has come to walk together to set free millions of hopes in Asia-Africa with ethos of Bapu-Madiba.

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