Pretoria: India’s ties with South Africa are set to witness an upswing with the inauguration of President Jacob Zuma, who has made it clear that the countries which strongly supported the anti-apartheid movement will remain special for his government.
In a speech made at his swearing-in ceremony on Saturday, Zuma had reached out to all those countries which helped South Africa in its struggle against the former apartheid regime in the early 1990s.
“Zuma referred very clearly to that small group of countries, including India,” said Vice President Hamid Ansari on board his special aircraft, describing the inauguration of the first Zulu head of the state of South Africa as a “historic occasion”.
“The most significant ties India has in Africa are with South Africa,” a top official, who accompanied Ansari on his visit for the swearing-in ceremony of Zuma, said.
The official said India-South Africa trade and business ties are poised to grow with Indian companies using this country as a base to promote their business in Africa.
“Indian industry is taking a lot of interest in South Africa,” Nalin Surie, secretary (west) in the ministry of external affairs, said.
Major companies like Tata, Mahindra and Ranbaxy are among the 40 Indian firms which have a presence in the biggest here, according to Indian high commissioner R.K. Bhatia.
Bhatia noted the bilateral trade in the year 2007-08 stood at $6.2 billion, of which 3.5% was South African exports to India while the rest accounted for the Indian exports to this country.
In the latest fiscal, the approximate figures for the first six months show the bilateral trade has gone up by 11% while South African exports to India have risen by 22%. However, there is a 14% decline in Indian exports to this country following the global financial crisis.
Besides trade, officials felt that Zuma’s assumption of office will take forward the bilateral ties in sectors like culture and tourism.
Reflecting the importance India accords to the relationship with South Africa, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has visited this rainbow nation twice in the past two-and-a- half years. Zuma too has visited India twice in recent years.
Ansari’s visit here was the “significant continuation” of that, Bhatia said. “In the new era (with Zuma as South African President) our relationship will move forward.”
The inauguration of the 67-year-old charismatic ANC leader, who lead his party to a landslide win in the 22 April general elections, had commenced with the recitation of the Gayatri Mantra.
Ansari said the 1.5 million Indian-origin people in South Africa are very much part of the society of this country.
Hours after Ansari left Johannesburg, Zuma unveiled his cabinet inducting six India-origin leaders, including anti-apartheid activist Pravin Gordhan, who was given the key portfolio of finance.
South Africans of Indian-origin will next year celebrate 150 years of arrival of their fore-fathers from India to work as indentured labourers in the sugar plantations of Natal.
“There is enough documented evidence about the policies since 1994 of creating a democratic society in South Africa and credit must be given to African National Congress leadership... presidents after presidents who have reiterated this policy. President Zuma has also reiterated this,” the Vice President said.