NEW DHELI – Rejuvenating the partnership between India and South Africa takes centre stage as President Cyril Ramaphosa is welcomed to New Delhi today as a state guest of honour for India’s 70th Republic Day celebrations.
Republic Day honours the date on which the constitution of India came into effect on January 26, 1950, replacing the Government of India Act with a democratic government system, completing the country’s transition towards becoming an independent republic.
Ramaphosa was expected to be accompanied by First Lady Dr Tshepo Motsepe and a high-level delegation including nine ministers, senior officials, a 50-member business delegation and media.
This is Ramaphosa’s first visit to India as head of state and follows on the heels of the visits of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to South Africa in July 2016 and July 2018. Nelson Mandela was the chief guest on Republic Day in 1995.
Among the scheduled activities, Ramaphosa will pay his respects at Raj Ghat to Mahatma Gandhi, whose 150th birth anniversary is being celebrated nationally and internationally, and also deliver the inaugural Gandhi-Mandela Freedom Lecture.
Ramaphosa will have a bilateral meeting and delegation-level talks with Modi on bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest, addressing the India-South Africa Business Forum today.
India is among the top five trading partners of South Africa. Bilateral trade has increased to $10.65billion (R147bn) in 2018-19 from $9.38bn in 2017-18.
A parade through the streets of New Delhi is expected to include a marching contingent from South Africa.
Speaking to a South African media contingent this week, Minister of Commerce and Industry and Civil Aviation Suresh Prabhu said he enjoyed a close relationship with his South African counterpart, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, as the countries shared similar goals of development in emerging economies.
“We organised a programme in Johannesburg where we brought in all the Southern African nations to promote India’s southern African trade.
“We have a similar programme in East Africa, in Uganda, with East African countries, and then in Nigeria for West Africa… We are extremely keen to work with Africa,” Prabhu said.
“We are proposing that we are also willing to have a free-trade agreement with Africa, but customised to suit the needs of individual African countries, because the level of development, population sizes, geography, culture, differs from country to country.
“Very clearly, there are great opportunities It is time for Africa to benefit from free trade.
“We have similar aspirations, similar group models, similar challenges, so we can address them together. We are already increasing our engagements with Africa by committing to more investments.”
Prabhu also said direct flights between South Africa and India, to encourage connectivity, would be key and were being looked at.
India and South Africa had enjoyed a close and multifaceted strategic partnership since 1997, which was underpinned by historic, cultural and economic linkages, said the High Commissioner for India to South Africa, Ruchira Kamboj.
“The economic partnership is robust. There are over 150 Indian companies based out of South Africa with an investment of $10billion employing close to 20000 locals.
“There is equally robust co-operation in the science and technology sectors. Indian scientists are playing a key role in the design and development of the prestigious Square Kilometre Array project in the northern Karoo, aside from working on myriad grass roots innovation projects with South African scientists which will benefit our two countries and people,” she said.
About 1.5million people of Indian origin live in South Africa. Both countries have close co-operation in the areas of vocational training and capacity building. The countries share a common vision on a range of global issues and closely co-operate in various multilateral bodies, including the UN, BRICS, G-20, Commonwealth, Indian Ocean Rim Association and IBSA.
– THE MERCURY