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2 May 2018,

India-South Africa Relations – The Way Forward

The following speech was given by Rajiv Bhatia, Distinguished Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies, Gateway House, at a session at the India-South Africa Business Summit in Johannesburg, on 30 April, 2018

Distinguished Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies Programme

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This speech was given by Rajiv Bhatia, Distinguished Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies, Gateway House, at the session on ‘India-South Africa Relations – The Way Forward’, at the India-South Africa Business Summit in Johannesburg, on 30 April, 2018.

Opening Remarks

  • It is an amazing feeling to return to this great nation after a long gap. It was my home for three years. Earlier, I spent four years in Kenya. I have spent much of the past decade, researching, reflecting and writing about developments in Africa and India-Africa relations. It is true to say that you may leave Africa, but Africa does not leave you!
  • The moderator has urged me to focus initially on regional and extra-regional issues. I am happy to offer a slew of considered suggestions, on the basis that the strategic partnership between India and South Africa does have important dimensions beyond the bilateral facets.
  • Three of them deserve special attention, which relate to pluri-lateral and multilateral institutions of which both the nations are members.
  • IBSA Forum: This unique grouping of three democracies – India, Brazil and South Africa – from three continents – developed well in the past, was then neglected by its members, and happily is now on its way to quiet resurrection. The process will be completed when the Forum re-commences holding its summits. Back in 2014, our leaders had agreed, at Fortaleza, Brazil, to convene the much-postponed IBSA summit, but this did not happen. Based on positive signals from South Africa and Brazil, India, I think, will be happy to host the summit as soon as feasible. South Africa’s full understanding and cooperation are needed for this purpose.
  • BRICS: It is in the common interests of its five members – India, Brazil, South Africa, China and Russia – that BRICS makes solid progress in its second decade. This institution should develop in a balanced manner, avoiding the temptation to follow the agenda of one or two countries only. BRICS will grow only if it promotes collective leadership and welfare of the larger constituency in the South. I favour, in this context, two specific proposals.
  • The New Development Bank of BRICS should be strongly encouraged and enabled to finance infrastructure development projects in, to begin with, the neighbourhood of South Africa and India i.e. in the SADC and BIMSTEC regions respectively. This will have obvious benefits across the board.
  • India is keenly interested in BRICS establishing an independent credit rating agency as a means to attract larger quantum of foreign investment. (At present, the sovereign ratings market is dominated, to the extent of 90 per cent, by S & P, Moody’s and Fitch.) The new agency will be beneficial for all member-states, especially South Africa and India. South African authorities will do well to push this proposal, as this could become a major achievement of the South African presidency of BRICS.
  • IORA: As chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, South Africa has been pro-actively engaged in strengthening this institution and making it more effective and influential. There is considerable potential for enhancing the role of Dialogue Partners in IORA, and for creating new financing opportunities for the Blue Economy. There is an urgent need to establish and operationalize the Working Group on Blue Economy. Further, speedy action is also required to establish the Working Group on Maritime Safety and Security. This institution is unique, linking all segments of the Indian Ocean from South Africa to Australia. At a time of complex flux in world politics and economy, IORA has the potential to provide clear leadership.
  • For these and other goals, South Africa should consider hosting an IORA Summit in 2019, for the Jakarta Summit of 2017 yielded notably positive results.
  • Finally, on the Pan-African and Pan-Asian plane, India-South Africa cooperation needs to be expanded beyond what we have today. Our bilateral dialogue should include a critical review of developments not only in Africa but also in Asia. In this context, we hope that South Africa will continue to follow a balanced approach towards Asia, recognizing its growing economic strength, innate diversities, and an essential need and inclination towards multi-polarity.
  • India will benefit from South Africa’s evolving assessment of the political and security situation, reform of the African Union, progress towards Agenda 2063, food security and climate change challenges and other Pan-African developments.
  • Our two countries should hold an extensive dialogue, involving governments and other stakeholders on various connectivity initiatives in play, originating in Asia: Belt and Road Initiative, Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, and Free and Open Indo-Pacific.
  • Another specific suggestion: soon India will start planning for the Fourth India-Africa Forum Summit. This will take place in 2020, most probably in an African capital. South Africa could consider making an offer to co-host the summit in this city.

Additional Comments

  • India-South Africa Relations

Like ties between two Individuals, relations between two nations often follow a cycle of ups and downs, of growth, ennui, stagnation and decline – and then renaissance. They need to be nurtured with care and sensitivity if they have to be kept on the path of consistent growth and expansion.

  • Fortunately, our bilateral relations are now on an upward trajectory. This successful business summit reflects the positive trends. In our present leaders – Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Cyril Ramaphosa – and, if I may add, in our specially gifted High Commissioner Ruchira Kamboj, we have people who shall tend this garden with a blend of creativity and dedication. The question is: how can we help them?
  • The first essential advice is: take inspiration from the Red Fort Declaration of March 1997, which President Nelson Mandela signed with the Indian leadership on his state visit to India. Our two nations resolved then to look ahead “with faith and optimism” in their shared journey towards “the larger goals of their political freedoms, economic development and social justice.” The task is still incomplete; hence the journey has to continue with vigour, with all of us re-focusing our sights on the goals set so clearly just two decades back.
  • Secondly, we need to remind ourselves, especially our young generations – two-thirds of our peoples in Africa and India are below 35 years – about the fundamental and unique nature of the India-South Africa  relationship: it is anchored in common ideals, ideas, interests and icons – Mahatma Gandhi and Madiba. Commenting on the lone presence of an Indian dignitary at the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Charter in Kliptown – not far from here, President Thabo Mbeki had said (on 26 June 20015): His presence is “no accident.” He is with us because “of the unbreakable ties of solidarity that unite the peoples and liberation movements of India and South Africa.”
  • How can we now contribute to endeavours to further strengthen, deepen and diversify India-South Africa relations? Here are our six considered suggestions:
  1. Clearly, our top leaders need to know and understand each other’s goals and priorities. They both face elections, but they will no doubt be guided by long-term perspectives.
  2. What is important is that they, the President and the Prime Minister, meet regularly, and hold at least one summit meeting every year in order to review progress and address key issues pertaining to their bilateral, regional and global agenda. This is the logic of our “strategic partnership.”
  3. We should accord the highest priority to the promotion of trade, investment, economic, technological and development cooperation. While our business leaders are ideally placed to elaborate this theme, may I highlight two specific matters here:
  4. Skill development should continue to receive high attention. Obstacles to expansion of cooperation in this domain should be identified and removed. It is worth noting that between 2011 and 2015 African nations utilised 24,000 scholarships offered by India through 300 training courses conducted at 60 training institutions. South Africa, being our principal partner on this continent, should get a bigger slice of such cooperation.
  5. Blue Economy has emerged as a priority goal for both countries. South Africa has secured considerable progress in this field. India too shows signs of new awareness of the sector are growing importance. A focused bilateral dialogue involving other stakeholders (including national industry chambers) can help in crafting a plan to forge close collaboration in developing sustainable fisheries, managing marine resources, exploring renewable energy, promoting tourism, and expanding maritime connectivity.
  6. I am afraid South African and Indian Think Tanks are still not connected well with each other. Contacts are sporadic, perhaps driven by subjective factors. What we need is a holistic, structured and sustained interaction among scholars in order to assist policymakers. Our Foreign Ministries should take a creative initiative in this regard, expanding the footprints of scholarly interactions beyond national capitals. The agenda should include G-20 issues and Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, besides regional and bilateral issues.
  7. South Africa could also consider measures that aim to make its public diplomacy in India more effective and result-oriented. Similarly, India’s public diplomacy in South Africa should aim to scale new heights.

It is natural that South Africa needs other partners in Asia just as India is engaged in forging other partnerships in Africa. However, both India and South Africa will need to keep in mind constantly that their own bilateral relationship deserves priority and has immense potential that is yet to be realized. In short, our task is cut out. This enriching event is certain to impart fresh momentum

Rajiv Bhatia is Distinguished Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies, Gateway House

This speech was delivered at the session on ‘India-South Africa Relations – The Way Forward’, at the India-South Africa Business Summit in Johannesburg, on 30 April, 2018

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