SOUTH AFRICAN President Cyril Ramaphosa will be the chief guest at the Republic Day event next year, sources have told The Indian Express. Ramaphosa, who became South Africa’s President in February this year, has accepted the invitation. His acceptance comes after the fiasco over US President Donald Trump declining the Indian government’s invitation to be the chief guest. While diplomatic channels had reached out to the US President, the White House said he was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict.
Sources said the US President’s State of the Union address would be around the same time, so his administration could not confirm Trump’s availability, especially since the Democrats have a decisive say in fixing the date. Ramaphosa, who was Nelson Mandela’s choice for future President of South Africa, is a keen Gandhi follower. In April this year, Ramaphosa led nearly 5,000 people at the annual ‘Gandhi Walk’ in Lenasia, an Indian township south of Johannesburg, seeking to promote community awareness and fitness. This was the first time that a sitting head of the state joined the walk, now in its 33rd consecutive edition.
Previously an anti-apartheid activist, trade union leader, and businessman, Ramaphosa served as the Deputy President of South Africa from 2014 to 2018.
Sources said South Africa is a key player in the BRICS grouping, and is one of the leaders in the African continent. Modi had met Ramaphosa on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in June this year.
The decision to invite Ramaphosa also ties in with Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, and the Indian government reached out to the leader to commemorate the celebrations. The Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, which celebrates Gandhi’s homecoming from South Africa, has been moved from early January to the second half, so as to coincide with the Republic Day celebrations.
An invitation to be the Republic Day chief guest is highly symbolic from the Indian government’s perspective. New Delhi has been weaving strategy with hospitality to decide its chief guest. The choice is dictated by a number of reasons — strategic, diplomatic, business interest and international geo-politics.
While 10 leaders from ASEAN countries were the chief guests this year, the Republic Day event has been attended by then US President Barack Obama, then French President Francois Hollande and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in the past.