South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was the chief guest at India’s 70th Republic Day celebrations, the second leader from Pretoria to have been so honoured. Nelson Mandela was chief guest in 1995. It was the fourth time the two leaders of India and South Africa have met in less than a year.
Ramaphosa and Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed a three-year agreement to improve strategic and economic relations. The two countries agreed on the need for greater economic cooperation in fields like mining, information technology, financial services, agro-processing and the blue economy. In the strategic field, the two governments agreed to do more in defence procurement and maritime cooperation.
Ramaphosa faces general elections in May and needs a decisive victory. He assumed power last year after corruption charges led to an intra-party rebellion against his predecessor, Jacob Zuma. Among the charges against Zuma was that he allowed the Gupta brothers, a family of Indian business cronies, to capture government policy.
The South African president urged Indian business to invest in his country. He hinted at the role of the Gupta brothers when addressing Indian businessmen saying, “business people from India, excluding stuff that you may have read, have really been outstanding business people – people who come to South Africa to run businesses, not for rent-seeking purposes or to run funny businesses.”
Ramaphosa said 29 South African firms operated in India and he would like to double the number in a few years. About 150 Indian companies have a presence in South Africa.
Modi noted area the two countries could work more closely in gems and jewellery, for example allowing Indian firms to directly procure South African diamonds. India could be a partner in start-ups, software, healthcare and pharmaceuticals in South Africa.
Bilateral trade and cumulative Indian investment in South Africa each touched $ 10 billion last year.
South Africa’s anchor position in the western Indian Ocean is a key reason there is a strong military and political component in the three-year strategy. The head of South Africa’s main arms manufacturer Denel was part of Ramaphosa’s business delegation. Denel was on India’s defence ministry blacklist until last year.
January 29, 2019