Mahatma and Madiba watch: Are we ready?
By Dr Anjani Kumar Singh,
the Mahatma and Madiba (Nelson Mandela) both would be concerned about South Africa. Violence and unrest continue to spread across the country even as Covid-19 remains a challenge. After the arrest of President Jacob Zuma, violence that erupted over accusations of corruption and contempt of court left more than 100 people dead. In light of the already besieged economy, with rising rates of unemployment and poverty, violence has taken on a life of its own. This can have important consequences for the country and also for India, as it seeks partners on the world stage. Government sources in South Africa have maintained that criminal and anti-social elements have taken over the protests. The disruption of medical work such as vaccination against Covid-19 has been reported as a concern. The world is watching with concern.
Traditionally, India and South Africa have had an affinity based on a common colonial experience and a common stance against the apartheid regime and the quest for a more equitable world order. The presence of a large Indian community which is now an integral part of the socio-economic and political fabric of the country is another bridge linking the two. They are key partners at the bilateral level with Cyril Ramphosa, the South African President, being the main guest of the Republic Day parade in 2019. Both are multi-ethnic, diverse and vibrant democracies. South Africa is a key voice within the African Union (AU) and a key partner in the IAFS process. Their partnership in reforming global institutions such as the United Nations Security Council is crucial. Both are also part of new and smaller multilateral interest-based groupings like the BRICS and IBSA. They adopted a common position in the context of the challenges related to Covid-19 and the economic response to the WTO, notably on the issue of intellectual property rights and the need to make medical care and vaccines accessible to billions of people. As the Indian Ocean reappears as a key driver of India’s grand strategy, the maritime security and blue economy partnership, as also reflected in the government’s SAGAR approach, requires a secure South Africa. , stable and prosperous. Perhaps more importantly, the Mahatma’s and Madiba’s ideas for the world need to be reiterated. Leadership of ideas and action is important at this stage.
Worryingly for India, attacks against people of Indian descent and businesses have been reported in provinces such as KwaZulu Natal and cities like Durban with a large Indian diaspora. If the situation continues, many see as real the prospects for exiting people of Indian origin and the capital, as happened in Idi Amin’s Uganda. However, such projections at this time should be made with caution. However, India cannot play a direct role in protecting this diaspora. It must go through its counterparts in this country to defend both its principles and its interests. This explains the appeal of EAM S. Jaishankar to his South African counterpart, the Consulate General in Durban, in contact with the South African government and in contact with the leaders of the Indian community through diplomatic channels. . It takes a lot of skill to convey concerns to a friend and help build their capacity to cope with such challenges. India has also witnessed several protests, most recently against differences in agricultural laws, even during the pandemic. However, Indian democracy has withstood multiple challenges in over seven decades, with many valuable lessons for emerging democracies in Africa. However, he was also eager to deal with external comments about his internal issues. Hence the need to be cautious in conveying the message while maintaining the principle of non-interference.
In a year when India is set to host the BRICS summit, one can remember how the meetings of the IBSA, a grouping of India, Brazil and South Africa, suffered from civil unrest in Brazil. during the previous decade. Even though the BRICS summit returned to Fortaleza in 2014, the IBSA summits have not resumed. While the BRICS are more economically focused, the IBSA has the opportunity to discuss political issues more openly as other BRCS members i.e. China and Russia are not exactly democracies. So, as India needs more partners globally, it cannot afford South Africa to become uncertain. India needs to take an active interest in the country without making it too obvious. This is all the more important as long-term competition with China on the mainland can only be denied by a staunch optimist or one who turns a blind eye to the current pattern. The Indian model, as opposed to the Chinese model, was seen as more relevant by many, including former EAM Shashi Tharoor. However, these choices may not be so obvious to African countries as they face growing demographics, an explosion of youth, democratization in societies with traditional ethnic differences exacerbated by the colonial nature of political boundaries.
India and South Africa, part of the G-4, are the main candidates for a permanent seat on the Security Council. Even if the path to reform remains uncertain. The internal disturbances which have long persisted weaken the candidacy of these countries. Likewise, India’s challenge has been to work towards consensus among the 54 AU members to move closer to the two-thirds of the votes needed at the UNGA to implement the reforms. South Africa’s challenges therefore also affect this difficult process. We can also note the common position taken by India and South Africa at the WTO quite recently in response to Covid-19 affecting developing and least developed countries. They are the champions of South-South cooperation; they also gain from being united in other multilateral negotiations, for example their rapprochement, with China and Brazil, as BASIC in the Copenhagen negotiations in 2009. The two democracies are rich in biodiversity and also vulnerable to adverse effects of climate change. While the meaning of security goes beyond traditional notions, more recent areas such as public health, climate change and its impact on food security cannot be ignored. This requires bilateral, regional and global partnerships.
India’s rise as a great power depends on sustained economic growth, military modernization, as well as internal cohesion and strength. Its rise is significant for its over 1 billion people and for billions around the world, including the people of South Africa. However, India also has a global responsibility. It’s now. First, subtle messages and communication at the highest political level possible are important. Second, ways to share experiences on maintaining internal security in a democracy would go a long way in cementing ties. After all, China has taken the lead in Africa to sell surveillance equipment, which it uses to monitor and quell domestic unrest. India can help in this area of capacity building; here, training and exhibition visits for relevant officials are important. It is important to note that South African leaders must return to Nelson Mandela’s message of truth and reconciliation as the foundation of justice. India has a responsibility to show the example of its power and, more importantly, the power of its example. Only time will tell if we are ready in form and in spirit.
(The author holds a PhD from the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Opinions expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)