India-South Africa Relations: Past, Present & Future

South Africa Special Report 2019 By Chigozie Udensi*


India-South Africa Relations: Past, Present & Future

Cyril Ramaphosa, President of the Republic of South Africa attend "At Home” Reception by the President of India in Rashtrapati Bhavan, January 26, 2019

India – South Africa relations date back several centuries. Often underlined by the trade of both goods and labour, this relationship has endured. India’s relationship with South Africa is both fundamental and unique, dating back several centuries and is anchored in common ideals, ideas, interests, and icons – like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

India was part of South Africa’s struggle for freedom and justice; this dates back to the period when Mahatma Gandhi started his Satyagraha movement in South Africa, over a century ago. With other international communities, India championed the anti-apartheid movement. India was the first nation to impose trade sanctions on the apartheid Government in 1946. Consequently, total sanctions, including diplomatic, commercial, cultural and sports were imposed on South Africa. India also strived to inform international organisations such as the United Nations and other multilateral organisations about the situation in South Africa under apartheid. The aim was to further enforce international sanctions on South Africa.

India and South Africa’s shared common experiences and collective strength have shaped how they both view the world together. As two nations who have shared their struggle to freedom, the responsibility to improve the lives of others is embedded within India and South Africa’s consciousness. After South Africa achieved democracy in 1994, a strategic partnership was initiated between India and South Africa. The document was signed in March 1997 by then PM Shri Deve Gowda and Mr Nelson Mandela, which laid the foundation for a rekindled relationship.

The ANC established a diplomatic office in New Delhi in the 1960s. After nearly 40 years, relations between India and South Africa were finally restored following talks between the then South African Government and the ANC. This memorable event was marked with the opening of a cultural centre in Johannesburg in May 1993. Diplomatic relations were restored in November same year when the then foreign minister of South Africa, Pik Botha visited India. A Consulate General was thereafter established in Johannesburg. The Indian High Commission in Pretoria and the Consulate General in Durban were opened in May 1994. A permanent office of the High Commission was also opened in Cape Town in 1996 near the House of Parliament. This eventually became the Consulate General of India in January 2011. Adding to the South African High Commission in Delhi, South Africa also has a Consulate General in Mumbai.

The exchange of visits by Parliamentary delegations between India and South Africa also reflect the friendly relations and strategic partnerships that define India-South Africa relations.

With India’s history of consistent support in South Africa’s freedom and democracy, there has been a steady alliance in friendly relations between the nations; both bilaterally and through the trilateral IBSA Dialogue Forum. With the commencement of diplomatic relations in 1993, bilateral agreements have been signed on economic and commercial cooperation, security, culture, health, science and technology, migration, education and public administration. India’s Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme (ITEC) has been a paramount source of capacity building and promoting development in human resources in South Africa. Employed South Africans aged 25 to 45 to apply for the ITEC training programme. Since 1993, over 1200 South Africans have acquired skills and technical training in India under the (ITEC) programme.

To address the shortage of skills among South Africans which is a national priority of the Government of South Africa, an MoU on the setting up of the Gandhi-Mandela Centre of Specialisation for Artisan Skills” in South Africa was signed during the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to South Africa in July 2018. The Centre, with the collaboration of Hindustan Machine Tools Limited (HMTL) will offer technical expertise, training material, machines and equipment as well as interactive ICT equipment for video conferencing in a multi-skills formation comprising of four skills: mechanical fitter, electrician, boilermaker and millwright for all of which there is demand in South Africa. The Centre is planned to be inaugurated in April 2019.

India is South Africa’s fifth largest export partner, fourth largest import partner and also the second largest trading partner in Asia. Both countries are working to boost trade volumes in the coming years. Bilateral trade between India and South Africa currently stands at $10 billion. In 2016, both countries set a target of increasing bilateral trade and investment to $20 billion by 2021.

Recently, a global joint publication by Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) and Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC) said in May 2018 that around 140 Indian companies have invested close to $4 billion in South Africa, thereby creating direct employment for over 18,000 people. The leading Indian companies in South Africa are Wipro, Coal India, Cipla, HCL Technologies, Tata Motors, Zomato, Mahindra and Mahindra, Vedanta, and Motherson Sumi. South African companies which have invested in India are SASOL, FirstRand, Old Mutual, ACSA, Shoprite and Nandos.

Some exports from India to South Africa include vehicles, transport equipment, medicines and pharmaceuticals, engineering wares, footwear, chemicals, textiles, food items and jewelry. Some imports from South Africa to India include gold, steam coal, copper ores & other minerals. Major Indian investors in South Africa include Tata (automobiles, IT, hospitality and ferrochrome plant), UB Group (breweries, hospitality), Mahindra (automobiles) and a number of pharmaceutical companies, including Ranbaxy and CIPLA, as well as IT companies and some investments in the mining sector. The growth of South African investments in India is headed by SAB Miller (breweries), ACSA (upgrading the Mumbai airport), SANLAM and Old Mutual (insurance), ALTECH (set-top boxes), Adcock Ingram (pharmaceuticals) and Rand Merchant Bank (banking).

India and South Africa convened the 9th Foreign Office Consultations on 18 January 2018 in New Delhi, India. The Consultations form part of the structured mechanism which governs bilateral relations between the two countries. This mechanism comprises a Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC) and the Foreign Office Consultations (FOC). The meeting reviewed developments in the bilateral relationship between South Africa and India, since the holding of the 9th Joint Ministerial Commission, in Durban, in May 2015, and the previous round of Foreign Office Consultations, held in Pretoria in May 2016.

India and South Africa enjoy a Strategic Partnership based on shared values and common interests and the meeting reflected on progress made with regard to the conclusion of a number of legal instruments, including agreements and memoranda of understanding, aimed at promoting cooperation within specific areas. These areas relate to visa simplification procedures, cooperation in higher education, audio-visual co-production and renewable energy. The meeting also reflected on ways to grow commercial links between India and South Africa, especially in the fields of trade and investment, while noting that bilateral trade had grown steadily over the last decade. In 2017, two-way trade had reached R97 billion and further areas of cooperation were being explored in the financial services industry, defence procurement, agro-processing and deep mining equipment.

South Africa is home to the largest Indian diaspora in the African continent, with a total strength of over one million, thereby constituting 3 percent of South Africa’s total population. More than a million Indians visit South Africa and over sixty thousand South Africans visit India yearly. Cultural exchange programmes have been organised throughout South Africa by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). The SA Minister of Arts & Culture Mr. Pallo Jordan visited India in December 2007 where he inaugurated a major South African art exhibition. Mrs. Ambika Soni, former Minister for Tourism and Culture also visited South Africa in August 2008 and signed the Programme of Cooperation (POC) in Arts and Culture for 2008-2011. A Festival of India in South Africa was jointly organised by Department of Arts and Culture South Africa and High Commission in Pretoria during June-August 2011. This annual ‘Shared Histories’ Festival - The Indian Experience in South Africa” is a celebratory cultural event. The Festival runs from August 16th - 27th in Johannesburg and Durban. On the same lines, a Festival of South Africa in India was organised in February-April 2013 under the POC. Also, the 9th World Hindi Conference was held in September 2012 and took place in Johannesburg. These events reflect the friendly relations and strategic partnerships that describe bilateral relations.

India and South Africa have maintained their unique bilateral relationship marked by regular high-level visits and exchanges. Moreover, high regard and respect is given to India for its non-invasive policy which is rare for any superior nation.

There has been a long-standing history of coordination between India and South Africa, with their views and efforts in institutions of global governance, with the aim of gaining greater autonomy and ensuring that each other’s agenda is prioritised.

BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa): In 2010, the previously known alliance of BRIC, became BRICS with the introduction of South Africa. Both countries are great benefactors of the BRICS alliance’s valuable contribution in reforming the global financial and economic architecture. During the sixth BRICS summit in Fortaleza in 2014, a decision was taken to establish the New Development Bank (NDB), with the aim to mobilise resources for development project in BRICS, emerging economies, and developing countries.

IBSA (India, Brazil, and South Africa): Established in 2003, the IBSA Dialogue Forum brings together three large democracies and major economies from three different continents facing similar developmental challenges and representing three developing, pluralistic, multicultural, multiethnic, multilingual, and multi-religious nations.

G20: The G20 is acknowledged by both nations as the premier forum for coordination of international financial and economic matters. G20 encourages the global-community to employ monetary, fiscal, and structural reforms to jump-start the global economy.

With India’s status as a rising world power and its increasing dependence on energy resources, a new dimension in India-South Africa relations has emerged where bilateral cooperation becomes important for development. South Africa’s geopolitical importance has increased in the strategic positioning of major world powers.

In summary, while this account of the India-South Africa relations is directed towards the prevalence of the State, there is yet room for future studies in the direction of cultural assimilation. A publication in the African Quarterly citing an Indian and South African author in 1999, shows evidence, that India is interested in the Indian-South African relationship. With a Sikh temple now in Sandton, Indian South Africans now have more access to India’s culture and arts. Popular Indian programmes are even more accessible as Sony and NDTV programs are available on DSTV. The presence of India’s Tata Motor Company is felt on the South African highways; and so the influences continue.

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