New beginnings to an old partnership

President Cyril Ramaphosa with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at an earlier meeting. File photo: African News Agency (ANA) Archives

The India South Africa partnership is progressive and forward looking. 2018 represented the 25th year of the establishment of diplomatic relations and has been special indeed through a multiplicity of high-level visits from India to South Africa. The high point was a very warm meeting between Prime Minister Modi and President Ramaphosa in the margins of the 10th BRICS Summit hosted by South Africa in July 2018. The two leaders did a repeat meeting in the margins of the G-20 in Argentina in November 2018.

The economic partnership is robust, there are over 150 Indian companies based out of South Africa with an investment of US$ 10 billion employing close to 20,000 locals. Importantly skills and capacity building are part of the package. Many of our companies, Tata, Mahindra and Zensar to name just a few train young South Africans at corporate office back in India and plug these now employable youth into their respective work streams in South Africa. Incidentally, this ready and helping hand from the Indian companies speaks to and responds to President Ramaphosa’s YES Programme.

There is equally robust cooperation in the science and technology sectors. Indian scientists are playing a key role in the design and development of the prestigious Square Kilometer Array Project located in the Northern Karoo in South Africa, aside from working on myriad grass roots innovation projects with South African scientists which will benefit our two countries and people. And with the resolution in 2018 of the Denel impasse that has hitherto held back defence cooperation, the two countries are poised for new beginnings that will benefit this strategic partnership.

What however lends character and quality to the India South Africa story is the rich cultural and people to people contacts between our two countries. The story goes back in time when the first Indians arrived in South Africa aboard the SS Truro at Port Durban in 1860. And when in 1893 Gandhi Jii was thrown from a whites-only train carraige onto the freezing ground at Pietermaritzburg railway station because of the colour of his skin, he ignited the most powerful weapon the world has seen: born in the mind, felt in the heart, free in the spirit of peace.

While Gandhi Ji was born in India, Satyagraha was born in South Africa.  It was his commitment to Satyagraha which brought India its freedom in 1947. Several anti-apartheid campaigns were modeled around Gandhi’s notion of nonviolent resistance and strength.  For Nelson Mandela in South Africa, his name inspired the same compassion and allowed Madiba to come the Father of his Nation.

2018 was therefore undoubtedly a beautiful year for commemoration, observing as we did Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday anniversary, and the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Mahatma Gandhi which started off in India on 2 October 2018 and will continue till 2 October 2020. This remarkable double celebration was commemorated in 2018 through Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Cyril Ramaphosa releasing stamps on the two peace icons, in the course of their bilateral meeting in the margins of the BRICS Summit.

Going forward and in tribute to Gandhi150 and Mandela100, we look forward to inaugurating our flagship project of 2018: the Gandhi Mandela Centre of Specialisation for Artisan Skills which will be based out of TVET College, Tshwane South Campus, Pretoria. To be inaugurated in April 2019, the Centre holds the promise to plug the skills gap through quality vocational training in identified sectors to meet the requirement of youth in South Africa, both semi-skilled and unskilled.

The project which is a pilot in South Africa is fully funded and sponsored by the Government of India. It responds to the emphasis that both Gandhi and Mandela have placed on education as the corner stone of an enlightened existence. Rightly had Madiba said that education is the most powerful weapon that one can use to change the world.

I am delighted to add and based off this rich cultural heritage that binds our two countries together, President Cyril Ramaphosa will be in India on 25-26 January 2019 as our Chief Guest for India’s 70th Republic Day Parade. He is only the second Head of State from South Africa after Nelson Mandela to accept this honour.  Does this get better?

And as our two countries march onwards and forwards in the year of Gandhi150 and Madiba100, we look forward with voices of passion and dedication to a future of excellence. The India-South Africa partnership is indeed timeless.

Ruchira Kamboj is the High Commissioner for India to South Africa.