Explained: Why India-South Africa relations are unique, and Ramaphosa is a special R-Day Chief Guesthttps://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-republic-day-india-south-africa-chief-guest-5556118/

Explained: Why India-South Africa relations are unique, and Ramaphosa is a special R-Day Chief Guest

The uniquely intertwined histories of India and South Africa have ensured that the bonds between the countries are, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “much deeper than we generally realize”.

Explained: Why India-South Africa relations are unique, and Ramaphosa is a special R-Day Chief Guest
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa with Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Twitter/@narendramodi)

President Cyril Ramaphosa, the Chief Guest at the 70th Republic Day celebrations, was sworn in as President of the Republic of South Africa on February 15, 2018, following the resignation of President Jacob Zuma. This is the second time a South African Head of State is Chief Guest for Republic Day — the first occasion was in 1995 when the late Nelson Mandela visited.

In the five years of the Narendra Modi government, leaders from countries in four continents have been Chief Guests at India’s Republic Day. President Barack Obama of the United States was the Chief Guest in 2015, followed by President Francois Hollande of France in 2016, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, Crown Prince of the UAE, in 2017. Last year, the celebration of India’s 69th Republic Day was attended by the leaders of 10 ASEAN countries.

South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa at India’s Republic Day 2019

President Ramaphosa, 66, studied law and joined politics during his days as a student in the early 1970s. According to his profile on official South African government websites, he was thrown into jail on charges of terrorism in 1974, and again in 1976. In 1982, he co-founded the National Union of Mineworkers and, five years later, led the mineworkers in one of the biggest strikes in the history of South Africa. After the apartheid government declared a state of Emergency, he was forced to go into hiding in 1986.

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After the ban on the African National Congress was lifted in 1991, Ramaphosa was elected its Secretary General, and he headed the ANC’s team of negotiators at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa and the multiparty talks that followed. After South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, he became a Member of Parliament, and oversaw the drafting of the country’s first democratic Constitution.

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Thereafter, he concentrated more on his businesses and a range of global leadership roles for several years, before returning more fully to politics in 2012, when he was elected Deputy President of the ANC. In 2014, Ramaphosa was appointed Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa, and in December 2017, he was elected the 13th president of the ANC.

India’s and South Africa

India’s relations with South Africa go back centuries and have a powerful emotional component. It is here that Mahatma Gandhi began his political career, and over the decades of the 20th century, India stood solidly behind the ANC’s struggle against apartheid.

According to the official note on India-South Africa relations on the website of India’s High Commission in Pretoria, India was the first country to sever trade relations with the apartheid government, and subsequently imposed a complete — diplomatic, commercial, cultural and sports — embargo on South Africa. India worked consistently to put the issue of apartheid on the agenda of the UN, NAM and other multilateral organizations and for the imposition of comprehensive international sanctions against South Africa. The African National Congress (ANC) maintained a representative office in New Delhi from the 1960s onwards.

India actively worked for the AFRICA Fund to help sustain the struggle through support to the frontline states. In March 1997, during the visit of President Mandela to India, the two countries signed the historic Red Fort Declaration for Strategic Partnership between India and South Africa.

India’s has had fairly flourishing commercial relations with South Africa since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1993. However, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his address to the India-South Africa Business Forum on Friday, despite bilateral trade having been “on the upswing”, having “crossed the $10-billion mark in 2017-18… there is great potential still”.

The uniquely intertwined histories of India and South Africa have ensured that the bonds between the countries are, as the Prime Minister said, “much deeper than we generally realize”. The partnership, Modi said, “is about a shared and prosperous future, which realizes the dreams of Madiba and Mahatma for our people. We seek constantly to engage and collaborate for a better future for our people, and also the world”.

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