Year in review: India strengthens strategic ties with South Africa

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in New Delhi

The bilateral ties between India and South Africa further deepened in 2019 with the two countries stepping up their cooperation in the area of defence and developing a road map to enhance their strategic partnership.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was the chief guest at the Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 26.

The visit of Ramaphosa, the second South African president to be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations, was of high symbolic value and was very special for both the countries as India celebrated the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, while South Africa observed the 100th birth anniversary of the anti-apartheid icon, Nelson Mandela.

Twenty-four years ago, shortly after the end of the Apartheid regime in early 1994, Mandela came to India as the Chief Guest at the Republic Day parade in 1995.

In 1997, India and South Africa signed the Strategic Partnership, called the Red Fort Declaration. Since then, the bilateral ties between the two countries have grown stronger with the two nations having MoUs in practically all areas.

During his 2019 India visit, President Ramaphosa renewed the Declaration with the three-year Strategic Programme of Cooperation (2019-2021), which aims at enhancing bilateral cooperation in a time-bound manner.

The strategic programme will facilitate expansion of ties in several key areas such as defence, maritime security and trade and investment.

India and South Africa also resolved to work together to address the issue of fugitive economic offenders through international organisations and institutions, such as G20, Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and others.

The year 2019 also witnessed the first-ever joint India-Africa military training exercise, which was held in Pune in March and was participated by nine countries, including South Africa.

The other countries which attended the Indian- Africa Field Training Exercise were Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania, Namibia, Mozambique, Uganda, Niger and Zambia.

The bygone year also saw many Indian companies expanding their businesses in South Africa.

While, global natural resources player Vedanta Resources Ltd -- which has already invested Rs 3,000 crore in South Africa -- announced a fresh investment of Rs 8,500 crore to expand its mining and allied operations, carmaker Mahindra & Mahindra -- which is celebrating 15th year of its operations in the resource-rich country -- has inaugurated its Special Fitment Centre in Gauteng.

South African company Bat Hawk Aircraft, which manufactures light sport aircraft that are used primarily for surveillance and conservation purposes, clinched a USD 3.6-million deal to supply 200 aircraft to India over the next three years.

While the economic relations between India and South Africa were boosted by a series of sector-specific events, they were dampened slightly by the decision of the world's largest steel maker ArcelorMittal's South Africa unit to retrench nearly 1,000 workers and shutting down its Saldanha plant due to severe financial losses, amid a global downturn in the steel industry.

On the entertainment front, the Rainbow Nation, whose scenic beauty has always attracted the Bollywood, saw the revival of an Indian-family owned cinema empire, which was destroyed in the apartheid era.

The Avalon Group's national cinema chain, destroyed half a century back by the apartheid-era racial segregation laws, revived one of its landmark cinemas in Cape Town, which was a focal point in the anti-Apartheid struggle.

The year 2019 also witnessed South Africa taking the Indian heritage garment, Sari, to a new level with over 3,000 women and even some men draped in the traditional attire participating the annual Sari Stroll on the Durban beach to highlight the country's efforts to stop violence against women.

The two-kilometre leisurely walk attracted wide international media attention.

Notwithstanding the growing trajectory in India-South Africa bilateral ties, there is immense potential that is yet to be realised. The events in 2019 is certain to impart fresh momentum to the relationships between India and South Africa as the two historical allies are all set to walk hand-in-hand into a new year.

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