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India - South Africa an unbreakable bond

25 October 2018

In 1918, one hundred years ago in Qunu a village in the Eastern Cape province of the Republic of South Africa, Rolihlahla Mandela was born into the royal household of the Thembu nation. Mohandas Gandhi was turning 50 in the same year in India. He had left South Africa 3 years prior, after living there for 21 years, and returned to India, his country of birth.

Photo: Naledi Pandor, South African Minister of Higher Education and Ruchira Kamboj, High Commissioner of India to South Africa at the soft launch of the Gandhi – Mandela Centre of Specialization

In this, the 100th and 150th anniversary of the birth of these icons of freedom, justice and equality among humankind, commemorations and celebrations are being held all over the world.

In Tshwane South at the Technical and Vocational Education and Training College in South Africa’s capital, the realization of the Gandhi – Mandela Centre of Specialization for Artisan Skills began its journey on October 8th 2018. This venture is further evidence of an intricate, intertwined and resilient connection between South Africa and India.

The Specialization Centre will provide training for electricians, boilermakers, mechanical fitters and millwright. The Indian Government will bear the cost of project planning and coordination, the supply, installation and commissioning of machines and equipment and provide trainers and experts from India. The South African Government will provide the infrastructure and logistical support for the import of necessary equipment, material and supplies.

Gandhi was gunned down on January 30 1948, just 5 months after the British surrendered and India regained its freedom. In that same year Mandela became National Secretary of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL).

Mahatma (The Great Soul) as Gandhi became known, is revered in India and the world over for his unique resistance campaigns which followed a path of truth and non-violence. Satyagraha and Ahimsa were used to break down the discriminatory laws that people of Indian origin had to endure at that time in South Africa. This was the same method Gandhi used to oust the British colonisers from India.

It took the resistance in South Africa another 47 years to remove the yolk of colonialism and the brutality of apartheid.  Madiba, the title of respect for Mandela bestowed upon him by his clan, and his fighters for freedom finally overcame the inhumanity of subjugation and set South Africans free.

As India celebrates 71 years as a republic, South Africa turned 24. In 1971, 24 years into India’s independence the Indo-Pakistan war broke out, an absurdity created by the British colonial divide and rule strategy. The after effects of this futile conflict still plague the sub-continent today.

The renowned caste system in India which separated people by class, which Gandhi was opposed to, can be compared to the racial divisions implemented by the apartheid system in South Africa.  The self-imposed discrimination by Indian’s suited the strategy of the British Raj and they established dominion over India for more than two centuries.

As South Africans grapples with their own transition, India has the fastest growing economy in the world and has developed a middle class of over 300million people. They have produced highly skilled people in many sectors and currently occupy leading positions in a number of multi-national companies. Known for their business acumen Indian companies are flourishing the world over.

In South Africa Indian business has created tens of thousands of jobs, and has trained and skilled many. They have also contributed to social upliftment through their corporate social responsibility initiatives.

For Indians and India South Africa will remain indelible in their history as the land that was an inspiration and motivation for the Mahatma. Even in the throes of their own development, when India was ravaged by poverty and underdevelopment, it never wavered in its support for the struggle for freedom of the people of South Africa, aiding the liberation movements in any way it could.

The Gandhi Mandela Specialization Centre is a clear indication of India’s commitment to South Africa, a country that has a special significance in India’s rich and diverse history that stretches back several thousand years. Through Gandhi’s legacy every Indian, wherever they may be, will know about South Africa.

K Bhana




February/March 2020








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