India and South Africa: New Challenges

By E.S. Reddy, April 1995

The inauguration of a democratically-elected government of national unity in South Africa a year ago represented more than a change of administration or even the demise of racial domination in one country. It signalled the end of a tragic era in the history of Asia and Africa, indeed of humanity.

India, the largest colonial country, and South Africa, the victim of a special type of colonialism, played a crucial role in bringing about the elimination of colonialism. But they need to continue to work together to reconstruct and develop their economies, and to face the new challenges which have emerged in international affairs.

The two countries can now look forward to a future of closest cooperation. What is envisaged is not merely a resumption of normal relations after a half a century of interruption - when only the relations between the two national movements were retained and, in fact, strengthened - but the development of extensive relations in all fields for mutual benefit and for the benefit of humanity.

The "Treaty on the Principles of Inter-State Relations and Cooperation" signed by India and the new South Africa on January 25, 1995, envisages cooperation in the political, trade and scientific spheres as well as in the fields of technology, industry, transport, energy, culture, public health, ecology, education, tourism, sports and exchange of information. Equally important, the Treaty lays down shared ideals - peace, democracy, secularism - and affirms the common determination to fight against all forms of racial discrimination, terrorism, and religious extremism.

It is now incumbent not only on the governments, but on organisations, institutions and individuals in the two countries to develop cooperation in every field, and in the pursuit of these ideals.

The national movements of the two countries eschewed narrow nationalism and shared a common vision of a new world order. Mahatma Gandhi always emphasised that vision. In 1931, for instance, when questioned by professors at Cambridge about partnership between Britain and India, he stressed that Britain must desist from exploitation and that the connection "should be wholly and solely for the benefit of mankind." He explained, according to the summary by Mahadev Desai:

"What about the South African possessions?... I should certainly strive to work for the deliverance of those South African races which, I can say from experience, are ground down under exploitation. Our deliverance must mean their deliverance. But, if that cannot come about, I would have no interest in a partnership with Britain, even if it were of benefit to India... India cannot reconcile herself in any shape or form to any policy of exploitation and speaking for myself, I may say that if ever the Congress should adopt an imperial policy I should sever my connection with the Congress."

The wider interests of humanity need to be underlined because the end of colonialism and the cold war have not brought peace and security to Asia, Africa and the rest of the "third world." Nor has there been progress toward the democratisation of international relations. Unless genuine international cooperation is established on the basis of human equality, it will not be possible to address adequately the major challenges facing the world.

India and South Africa are uniquely qualified to provide leadership in efforts to unite the developing countries, and rally support from public opinion in the rest of the world, for this purpose. They occupy strategic positions in the two sister continents of Asia and Africa. The freedom movements of the two countries - with populations of varied origins, speaking many languages and professing many faiths - have set an example of reconciliation. Their struggles for freedom, which attracted world-wide interest and support by their statesmanship and moral stature, have shown that human solidarity is stronger than greed, and that the human spirit can overcome power politics. They are endowed with human and material resources, as well as valuable experience in international cooperation.

Relations between States cannot be built on the past alone, but in the case of India and South Africa, the past relationship has been unique and provides a firm basis to plan the future and a lasting source of inspiration.

The common experience of oppression and resistance, the international outlook which characterised the struggles for liberation, and the heritage of Mahatma Gandhi led to a particularly intimate relationship in the past half a century. India's provision of valuable assistance to the South African struggle arose from a conviction that it was a continuation of India's own movement for national independence. It awarded the Bharat Ratna to Nelson Mandela, thereby treating him as an Indian patriot. The inauguration Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa became a day of national rejoicing in India: the Rashtrapati Bhavan and the Parliament building were illuminated as on India's national day.

I am therefore glad that this timely book on India-South African relations deals with the proud past as well as the hopeful future. I must congratulate Dr. Uma Shankar Jha for bringing together contributions by leading Africanists of India, as well as those who have made notable contributions to the struggle against apartheid. It is to be hoped that this book will be read widely in India and South Africa, and will initiate a continuing dialogue on the development of relations between these neighbours across the Indian Ocean.


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