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Strategic Partnership between India and South Africa

  • Category
    World Affairs
  • Published
    31st Jan, 2019

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s state visit to India, as chief guest at the 70th Republic Day parade presents an opportunity to renew and reinvigorate the near-quarter century of ties between the two countries of Asia and Africa.



  • South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s state visit to India, as chief guest at the 70th Republic Day parade presents an opportunity to renew and reinvigorate the near-quarter century of ties between the two countries of Asia and Africa.
  • India and South Africa has revised 20-year old Strategic Partnership and also signed a three-year strategic partnership agreement to boost relations.


  • 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 India.
  • A comprehensive document outlining the road map for cooperation was exchanged by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Foreign Minister (South Africa) Lindiwe Sisulu.
  • The agreement signed will cover defence and security, blue economy cooperation and sustainable development.
  • PM Modi also asked for the simplification of the existing visa regime for businessmen and tourists, and direct connectivity for further easing business and people-to-people exchanges.
  • This has been an attempt to deal with the complaint of African nations that India’s interest in the continent remains episodic. As China’s economic engagement in the region comes under growing critical scrutiny, there are new opportunities for India to enhance its profile with a more equitable partnership with African countries.
  • The trade between India and South Africa is on the up-swing, and had crossed the $10-billion mark in 2017-18.

3-year Strategic Partnership Agreement:

  • Both the countries have entered into a three-year pact to boost cooperation in areas such as agro-processed goods, defence procurement, mining equipment, and technology and financial services, including insurance, start-ups, health care and pharma, bio-tech, IT and IT-enabled sectors.
  • Both countries will cooperate in the gems and jewellery sector and could explore avenues for direct procurement of diamond. It will ensure economies of scale, and also reduce the cost for both buyers and sellers.
  • On security cooperation, trade and investment, tourism, harnessing the ‘blue economy’, maritime cooperation, agriculture, science, and technology projects.


India 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.
  • India’s has had fairly flourishing commercial relations with South Africa since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1993.

A partnership between India and South Africa both advanced developing countries and emerging economies, seeks to fulfil larger goals of political freedom, economic development and social justice, not just of the two countries but of their respective regions.


Bilateral relations between India and South Africa:

  • They also reviewed bilateral relations between India and South Africa as encapsulated in the strategic partnership between the two countries.
  • The two countries have set a target of $20 billion for trade and investment to be reached by 2021. Some of India’s biggest corporations, such as Tata, Mahindra, and Vedanta, are among the 150 odd Indian companies that have invested in South Africa.
  • India also invited South Africa to join the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and congratulated it on securing the non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council for 2019-20.
  • A joint statement acknowledged the growing interaction between the Navies of the two countries, and the Indian leader welcomed the South African participation in the India-Africa Field Training Exercise next March.

Beyond the bilateral, the two nations are engaged in a number of plurilateral initiatives:

  • These include not only the much talked about BRICS grouping along with Russia, Brazil, and China, but also the India-Brazil-South Africa trilateral, the Commonwealth, and the Indian Ocean Rim Association.
  • The BRICS agenda needs to evolve in a manner that emphasizes the voices of New Delhi and Pretoria. It is for this reason, perhaps, that the IBSA, which involves three democracies — India, Brazil and South Africa — needs to be revived.
  • The Commonwealth also needs a more proactive engagement from India and South Africa if its future is to be viable. Given the centrality of the Indian Ocean in emerging geopolitics and geo-economics, IORA needs full support from India and South Africa too to strengthen its institutional underpinnings.

Defence deal:

  • The two sides are expected to explore new defence deals in the backdrop of the lifting of a 13-year old ban on South African defence firm Denel that was barred from doing business in India since 2005.
  • Denel was finally removed from the blacklist in September 2018 after the Central Bureau of Investigation filed a closure report and the Supreme Court subsequently dismissed corruption charges against the company.

How this engagement will help India:

  • Strengthening the India-South Africa partnership is vital in the context of Africa’s development, especially to provide a viable alternative to the China model.
  • The fast-growing and fast prospering population of Africa will present itself as a major opportunity for the rest of the world. India has historic ties with several countries of the continent, such as the nearly 1.5 million people of Indian origin in South Africa, which would help India make good on that opportunity.
  • Their problems and aspirations put India and a variety of African countries on the same side of multinational attempts to tackle global challenges such as climate change, keeping trade open and avoiding big power domination.
  • India and South Africa give these efforts an institutional framework through forums such as the G20, the Indian Ocean Rim Association, BRICS and IBSA. Robust maritime security in the Indian Ocean is not of just bilateral significance.
  • The defense relationship, with a focus on joint production as well as maritime security, is also going to be a priority in the future.


It is perhaps time for the two nations to think big and start having a conversation about the larger trends in global politics. As a new order evolves, two friends with a longstanding historical relationship should now start talking about the future of Asia and Africa. At a time when strategic geographies are getting redefined with the rise of Eurasia and the Indo-Pacific, key players like India and South Africa need to move beyond their comfort zones.

President Cyril Ramaphosa

  • Ramaphosa, who served as the deputy president of South Africa from 2014 to 2018, has a long-standing record as an anti-apartheid activist.
  • Despite being Nelson Mandela’s preferred successor, the African National Congress (ANC) opted for his rival, Thabo Mbeki, as the second post-apartheid president.
  • The decision to invite Ramaphosa also coincides with Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary; the South African leader is a keen Gandhi follower.
  • In a first for a sitting president, Ramaphosa led the annual “Gandhi Walk” last year in Lenasia, an Indian township south of Johannesburg, in order to promote community awareness and fitness. Ramaphosa took over as South Africa’s president after an embattled Jacob Zuma resigned with great reluctance in February 2018.

Learning Aid

Practice Question:

What makes India-South Africa relations unique? Also discuss about the pact signed between the two countries and how it will help Indian economy.


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