Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A historic friendship

"India and South Africa are two countries held so closely by bonds of sentiment, common values and shared experience, by affinity of cultures and traditions and by geography"
-Nelson Mandela


South Africa and India are inextricably bound to act in concert of each other's mutual interest.
India was at the forefront of the international campaign against apartheid in South Africa even before India gained independence. The relationship between the two countries is one of a special nature because of one man – Mahatma Gandhi. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, then a young 24-year-old barrister, arrived in South Africa in 1893 to represent an Indian trader in Natal in a civil suit against an Indian trading firm in Pretoria.

Within days, he encountered bitter humiliations such as being pushed out of a train and being assaulted for walking on a footpath. The experience made him all the more strong: He decided never to accept or be resigned to injustice and racism, but to resist. India was the first country to sever trade relations with the apartheid Government in 1946, and imposed a complete -diplomatic, commercial and cultural - sanction on South Africa. India worked consistently to put the issue of apartheid on the agenda of the United Nations, Non-Aligned Movement and other multilateral organisations and for the imposition of comprehensive international sanctions against South Africa.

"In South Africa racialism is the State doctrine and our people are putting up a heroic struggle against the tyranny of a racial minority. If this racial doctrine is going to be tolerated, it must inevitably lead to vast conflicts and world disaster, " Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru had said in a broadcast on September 7, 1946. The complaint on racial discrimination against Indians in South Africa was made even before the establishment of a national Government, because of strong public sentiment in the country. That was in 1946.

India's relations with South Africa were restored after a gap of over four decades, with the opening of a cultural Centre in Johannesburg in May 1993. Formal diplomatic and consular relations with South Africa were restored in November 1993 during the visit to India of the then South African FM, Pik Botha. A Consulate General was thereafter established in Johannesburg. The Indian High Commission in Pretoria was opened in May 1994, followed by the opening of the Consulate General in Durban in the same month. Since Parliament in South Africa meets in Cape Town, a permanent office of the High Commission was opened there in 1996. India-South Africa relations in the post-Apartheid era have developed smoothly.

A number of bilateral agreements have been concluded between India and South Africa since the assumption of diplomatic relations in 1993 in diverse areas ranging from defence, culture, science and economic cooperation. The India-South Africa Joint Commission at the level of Foreign Ministers was set up in 1994 to identify areas of mutually beneficial cooperation. Its 5th highly successful Session took place in Pretoria on July 3-4, 2003.
Written for Hindustan Times on January 13, 2007)

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