Strategic Analysis

Strategic Analysis:
A Monthly Journal of the IDSA

March 2001 (Vol. XXIV No. 12)


Indo-South Africa Relations After Mandela
By Ruchita Beri *



The exit of Mr Nelson Mandela from domestic politics has brought to power Thabo Mbeki as the President. There appears to be no dramatic change in relations between India and South Africa with the exit of Mandela. Primarily because Mbeki is said to have been the main driving force behind the foreign policy in the Mandela era. Both President Mandela and subsequently President Mbeki have emphasised on the historic bonds of friendship with India and the potential for mutually beneficial co-operation. This friendship was translated into a strategic partnership in 1997. There have been a few hiccups in the relationship- mention of Kashmir at the NAM Summit in 1998 by President Mandela and on the nuclear issue. The new leadership in South Africa had emphasised the importance of giving greater economic content to the strategic partnership, a sentiment that India can clearly identify with. Expanding the areas of cooperation would strengthen the links.

"India and South Africa are two countries held so closely by bonds of sentiment, common values and shared experience, by affinity of cultures and traditions and by geography"

– President Nelson Mandela 1

"Our common hope of success will depend on our ability to act together. We are reassured that we can count on India as our strategic partner in this historic endeavour which seeks to give birth to a new world order of just and lasting world peace, of prosperity for all peoples and equality among nations."

– President Thabo Mbeki 2



India's association with South Africa goes back a long way. India was in the forefront of the anti-apartheid movement ever since Mahatma Gandhi started experimenting with Satyagraha in South Africa nearly a century ago. Mahatama Gandhi's experience in fighting the discrimination against the Indians in India made a great contribution in the evolution of the strategy of Satyagraha by him. It was this very philosophy which Gandhi applied in India's struggle against the British and successfully led the country to freedom. In fact as pointed out by Nelson Mandela, "Indeed it was on the South African soil the Mahatmaji founded and embraced the philosophy of Satyagraha." 3 Later India was the first country to sever trade and diplomatic relations with Pretoria in 19 6 in protest against its racial policies. India was also the first to bring up the issue of apartheid on the agenda of the United Nations and was influential in the imposition of economic sanctions against South Africa. Over the last fifty years India has provided considerable moral and material aid to the anti-apartheid movement. Diplomatic relations were restored during the visit to India of the then South African foreign minister Mr. Pik Botha, on November 22, 1993. The Indian high commission was opened in Pretoria in May 1994 coinciding with the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela's multi-racial government.

The overwhelming election victory in June 1999 of South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) and the exit of Mr. Nelson Mandela from domestic politics, has brought to power Thabo Mbeki as the President. The ascendance of Mr. Mbeki to the Presidency raised a number of questions. Domestically, it was asked whether the new President would be able to continue with his predecessor's remarkable brand of conciliatory and pragmatic politics? Whether he would institute radical policies and measures designed to Africanize South Africa and empower the majority black population at the expense of race relations? Finally, what sort of foreign policy could be expected? It is the latter that concerns India the most, since on it would depend the fate of Indo- South African relations after Mandela.

Mandela and Mbeki: A Comparison

A major challenge facing Mr. Mbeki is the comparison with the larger than life image and personality of President Mandela. Former President Mandela dominated the domestic and the international image of South Africa. He is one of those rare individuals to have become a legend in his own lifetime, having survived the incarceration of 28 years and becoming recognised internationally as a symbol of resistance to racial oppression. Within South Africa Mr. Mandela had been invested with virtual "sainthood". Even the harshest critique of the policies of the ANC as a rule exempt Mr. Mandela from any criticism by investing upon him a role and position "above politics". In this perspective, by being in prison almost the entire period of the struggle, Mr. Mandela's role in resistance to apartheid took on a "moral" aspect, untainted by the harsh realities of political struggle within and outside the country. Mandela has an unusual combination of modesty and mission. Had Nelson Mandela not been by belief a man of moderate and moderating views, civilised and civilising values, a democrat who prefers forgiveness to vengeance he could have become what Jawarhalal Nehru said of himself, " By one little twist, an autocrat." Mandela's greatest achievement was to seize the opportunity offered by De Klerk on February 2, 1990 and reach the constitutional settlement which successfully avoided the threat of violent disintegration of the country. Nothing can diminish the importance of that achievement made possible by his unique style and charisma.

On ascendance to power in June 1998 Mbeki had to face the inevitable comparisons between himself and the former President. Not all of them were charitable. While credited as a man whose "intelligence, learning and eloquence is undisputed", he has attracted a range of descriptions and adjectives about his personality and character by the media. The term "enigmatic" has been repeated so frequently that it has become; a cliché; there are other words and phrases such as "master of stealth", 'Africanist'', "serpentine political skills" which has caused it to acquire an almost sinister overtone. The general implication of all these writings is that Thabo Mbeki will by devious political manipulation work towards overcentralisation of government to the point of being autocratic and dictatorial. There is this obsessional fear that South Africa will consequently go the disastrous way of other African countries. The term enigmatic appeared to have acquired currency primarily due to the fact that prior to gaining power; he had primarily kept to himself. Correspondingly, the label of "Africanist" in relation to affirmative action in favour of blacks needs careful scrutiny. While whites are certainly not prominent in the new government machinery, there is no shortage of Indians.

There is also the difference in the priorities of the two presidencies domestically. The Mandela government was a platform for national reconciliation and unification. It was the presidency of transition, at all levels–government, structure and mentality from apartheid to post-apartheid era. The objective was to stabilise the shift from apartheid to post-apartheid era. The priorities of the Mbeki government go a step further and are more concrete. The focus is on grappling with the socio- economic problems that were a direct legacy of the apartheid past. Thus, the main objectives of this presidency appear to address the imbalances and inequalities felt at the very basic level, and empowering the population which had been disempowered.

In terms of foreign policy when Mandela came to power in 1994, South Africa had been isolated for many years. Thus the foreign policy focus of the Mandela regime was reintroducing the country to the world community. There was also a search for a direction in the foreign policy and the role that South Africa should play in the world community. President Mandela had identified six principles for his country's foreign policy–human rights, promotion of democracy, respect for international law, world peace achieved through non-violent means and effective arms control regimes, reflection of African concerns and finally growing economic cooperation in an interdependent world. During the five years of Mandela government, the South Africa foreign office had to face a number of serious challenges in terms of defining the national interest and developing foreign policy initiatives to pursue the interests so defined. Throughout this period, the South African foreign policy attracted criticism from various quarters, primarily for its lack of coherent vision and direction. In the absence of a cohesive concept of national interest in response to South Africa's primary concern to alleviate the material deprivation of the majority of its people, South Africa focused on economic ties. South Africa's reponses to international developments led to the accusations that the new South Africa was following the policies of the apartheid regime. This perception was derived from the discussion document on foreign policy by the Department of Foreign Affairs. While reiterating South Africa's position in the South, the document emphasises South Africa's support to and conformity with the major policy orientations of the North. It quoted Mr. Alfred Nzo, South African Minister of Foreign Affairs,

"Although we believe our future will be closely linked to the development of the South-South concept, there are certain realities that we dare not ignore. The US and the G7 countries constitute the undeniable economic power base of the world today. These countries are essential to the economic well being of the developing world, including South and southern Africa. Further more, the G7 countries have been most supportive of the GNU and have been generous in their commitment to our economic process. For this we are grateful, and we will continue to build on this sound foundation in the future." 4

The discussion document also placed South Africa as the bridge between the North and the South. To quote Foreign Minister Nzo,

"The position in which South Africa finds itself is that it has features both of the developed and the developing world. It is truly at the point of intersection between both worlds–an industrialised state of the South, which can communicate the needs, the concerns and the fears of the developing world. Conversely we can interpret the concerns and fears of the developed world." 5

While looking at the foreign policy priorities of the Mbeki government we should realise the fact that as Deputy President since 1994, Thabo Mbeki had already been ruling South Africa as the de facto Prime Minister during the Mandela Presidency. The baton of control was not passed on to him in 1999, but by former President Mandela's own admission, three years before. He is said to have been the main driving force behind the foreign policy. Since 1994 South Africa had already been following Mbeki's policies and had been led by what was his choice of cabinet . This much could be seen in the consistency of appointments between the presidencies. After formally becoming president, Thabo Mbeki declared that South Africa's primary foreign policy ambition is to secure the conditions necessary for an "African Renaissance" through the "establishment of genuine and stable democracies in Africa from which systems of governance will flourish." The foreign ministry's mission statement is to enhance South Africa's international capability to ensure its sovereignty and security and to promote its policies aimed at furthering the African Renaissance–the creation of wealth and improvement of quality of life of all its citizens. The vision of South Africa acting as a bridge between the North and South also still remains intact. The foreign policy agenda appears to be more well-defined than that of the earlier government. However, except for the renewed emphasis on Africa the foreign policy direction of the present government in South Africa remains almost the same as that during the Mandela period. This implies that there would be no dramatic change in the relations between India and South Africa.

Existing Areas of Cooperation

The present day relations between the two countries derive their sustenance from the strategic partnership agreement signed between the two countries in 1997. The words "strategic partnership" to define the relationship between India and South Africa were first used by the then Deputy President Mbeki during his visit to India in 1996. It was during President Nelson Mandela's visit to India in March 1997, that a declaration was made at the historic Red Fort in New Delhi of the launch of a strategic partnership between the two countries. This basically involves enhancing bilateral cooperation and collaborating in the international fora. 6

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in November 1993, India and South Africa have signed around 15 agreements/MOUs on various spheres including economic, defence and cultural cooperation. Around 10 agreements/MOU's are under consideration. A joint commission was set up between the two countries in January 1995. Its first meeting was held in Pretoria (July 1995), co-chaired by Minister of State for External Affairs,(MOS [EA]) Mr. Salman Khurshid and South African Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Aziz Pahad. The second meeting was held in New Delhi (December 1996) co- chaired by external Affairs Minister, Shri I.K. Gujral and Mr. Aziz Pahad. The third meeting was held in Pretoria on December 4-5, 1998. It was co-chaired by Ms. Vasundhara Raje , MOS(EA) and Mr Aziz Pahad. The next session of the joint commission is proposed to be held in New Delhi in the last quarter of this year. The joint session consists of five committees: political, economic, trade and technical cooperation, education and culture, health and science and technology. Here it would be relevant to study the existing cooperation between the two countries in the economic and defence spheres in greater detail.

Economic Cooperation

The reasons for developing economic ties with South Africa are many. South Africa is technologically and economically one of the most advanced countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Its per capita income is ten times more than that of an average sub- Saharan African country. Within the southern African region South Africa is clearly a giant. South Africa's economy is nearly four times as large as the eleven members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) combined. It is therefore in a position to set up joint ventures and provide technological and technical know-how to Indian companies in areas of its specialisation such as coal mining technology, refurbished power equipment and mining machinery etc. South Africa is also seen as a springboard to cater to markets of the nearby African countries such as Botswana, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and the Indian Ocean States. It is also seen as a transit point to Latin American countries and could open up possibilities to enter the markets of Latin America.

In the economic sphere the total trade between India and South Africa has risen by leaps and bounds in the last five years. From US $ 575.6 million in 1995-96 to about US$ 2.5 billion in 2000 and it is expected to reach the 3 billion mark by next year. South Africa has shown interest in exchange of expertise in developing small scale and cottage industries. The main items exported from India are textiles, leather hides, skins, chemicals, machinery and equipment, and vegetable products. Major imports from South Africa are–base metal and products, chemicals, wood pulp and paper and mineral products. Another important development has been the establishment of India-South Africa Commercial Alliance (ISCA). The terms of reference for the establishment of this alliance were signed during the visit of the then Prime Minister I.K. Gujral to South Africa in October 1997. While the alliance is co-chaired by the director general of South African department of trade and industry and Indian commerce secretary, it will be mainly driven by the private sector. The first meeting of the alliance was held in Pretoria on December 3, 1998. The discussions were held on seven sectors of cooperation: Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals, Engineering and equipment, Information technology, Mining, Housing and Infrastructure, Food Processing and Transportation. ISCA agreed on the need for a more structured approach to engagement, on the need for sectoral MOUs to be initiated to identify projects for cooperation and the need to conduct studies to identify complementarities and synergies for the formation of joint ventures. Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry is working as a secretariat for the alliance on the Indian side and has held discussions with the members of the industry to give concrete shape to the business opportunities between the two countries.

The Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) has also signed MOU's for future cooperation with the South African Chamber of Business (SACOB) in 1994 , with the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NAFOC) a predominantly black chamber as well as the Afrikaanse Handles Institute (AHI) - predominantly Afrikaner Chamber in 1996. A number of Indian companies viz. NSIC, EEPC, TEXPROCIL, CII, TATA, UB Group, DCM, SRF, Liberty Shoes, Ranbaxy, Torrent Pharmaceuticals, Thapar Group, Shriram Industrial Enterprises and a host of other small companies have already opened their offices in South Africa. While the Exim Bank and the State Bank of India have opened their offices in Johannesburg, Bank of Baroda has done so in Durban.

India is the eleventh largest investor in South Africa. The UB Group of India has invested US$20 million in a black owned brewery (National Sorghum Breweries) and has invested US$6 million in a tourism project (Mabula Game Lodge). Trireme Industrial Enterprises Ltd. has invested US$7 million in a car air conditioner manufacturing unit near Durban. TATAs have plans of assembling their vehicles and are exploring other investment projects in South Africa particularly in mining.

"Made in India Show " organised by the High Commission of India and CII was held in Johannesburg in 1998. The show brought together about 100 Indian companies for an impressive display of India's engineering, scientific and technical capacity .

Defence Cooperation

There is significant potential for defence trade and joint ventures between India and South Africa. South Africa has, over the years, built a strong defence industrial base with the emphasis on land systems and aerospace, the naval sector is minor with no military ships built since 1987. South Africa is the only major arms manufacturer and exporter on the continent. In 1994 the exports by the Armament Corporation of South Africa (Armscor) amounted to R 1,097 million but by 1996/97 Armscor reported exports of only R302 million. 7 This is a result of the massive decline in the defence expenditure to the tune of about 22 per cent from 1994 to 1996. The declining defence expenditures around the world have made defence collaborations a necessity for the indigenous defence industries. In these changed circumstances there appears to be significant scope for cooperation between India and South Africa in defence research and production.

In defence cooperation a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the field of defence equipment was signed between the two countries during South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki's visit to India in December 1996. 8 At the time of Prime Minister Mr. Inder Kumar Gujral's visit in October 1997, the South African Defence Minister Joe Modise announced that the two nations would "enhance and intensify defence cooperation", with South Africa offering a whole range of military hardware to India. Specifically, the agreement was to supply ammunition for the 155 mm Bofors guns as well as avionics and night vision equipment. In 1998 Gen. Ved Prakash Malik, India's Chief of Staff announced that India had bought 90 Casspir mine protected armoured personnel carriers from South Africa's Reumech OMC. 9 South Africa supplied 155-mm gun ammunition worth $47million at very short notice during the Kargil conflict in 1999. 10

The first meeting of Indo-South African Joint Committee on Defence cooperation was held in Pretoria in August 1998. The defence secretary headed the Indian delegation for this meeting. During this meeting it was agreed that progress in the defence sector was a concrete manifestation of the desires of India and South Africa to build a strategic partnership between the two countries. Views were exchanged on the security environment in their respective regions and on issues and developments that affect regional security and stability. 11

Though there have been a number of visits of DRDO officials to South Africa and the Denel representatives keep visiting India, the nature of cooperation in the defence industry field is not specified and everything is very hush-hush. There has been keen interest shown by both sides towards maritime cooperation. An exchange of visits of naval ships between the two countries has taken place. INS Gomati and INS Kukhri visited South Africa in December 1994. SAS Drakensberg paid a courtesy call to Bombay in March 1995. The Indian Navy is evaluating South African 76mm anti-missile projectiles for the OTO Breda Compact gun mounting selected for its three Brahmaputra class frigates being built in Calcutta. The trials incorporate an assessment of anti-sea skimmer fuses produced by the South African companies Fuchs and Naschem. 12 Indian army has shown interest in T6 155 mm/52 calibre self propelled howitzer turret made by Denel (LW). Trials to mate the T6 turret to the Arjun MBT are on course. South Africa in turn had expressed an interest in acquiring Nag, the Indian developed anti tank missile. This could be mounted on the Rooivalk helicopters. 13

India was a key participant in Exercise Blue Crane with South Africa and other SADC countries. This exercise took place at the SA Army Battle School Training Area in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa from April, 7 to 30 1999. It consisted of six stages involving approximately 4000 members from the SADC countries of Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The other participants such as military observers were approximately 500 in number. Exercise Blue Crane was one of the largest peace support operations ever undertaken. It was of particular significance to Southern African countries wishing to evaluate their combined peace support capability. India provided the IL-76 aircraft to transport troops from Tanzania, Namibia, and Zambia and the Naval Ship INS Sujata formed the main communication platform for the naval exercise off the Durban coast.

Exchange of visits at the level of Service Chiefs is an important measure for promoting goodwill between the armed forces of the two countries. There also has been frequent exchange of visits at the level of Chiefs of staff services. During 1998-99 the Indian Chief of Army Staff (COAS) visited South Africa while the South African Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) made a visit to India. The South African Chief of Staff visited India in March 2000.

Exchange of Visits

Ties between the two countries were strengthened by a number of visits exchanged by dignitaries at all levels. At the highest the level, the former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral visited South Africa in October 1997. It was the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister to South Africa. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has visited South Africa twice–once during the Non Aligned Summit in 1998 and the second time during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in November 1999. The Vice President Krishan Kant visited South Africa for the Inauguration of Mr. Mbeki as the second President of South Africa in June 1999. Shri Jaswant Singh, the external affairs minister visited South Africa in April 1999. Earlier, the then Indian Vice President, Mr K.R. Narayanan visited South Africa in May 1994 to represent the Government of India at the inauguration of Mr. Mandela as the first President of new South Africa. Similarly President Mandela visited India twice, in 1995 and again in 1997. The South African Vice President visited India in December 1996. There have also been a number of ministerial level visits exchanged between the two countries. During Mr Mandela's presidency almost sixty per cent of the cabinet had visited India. This trend continues–in the last one year there were visits by Minister of Defence Patrick Lekota, followed by the visit of Health Minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang to participate in the conference on Heart Health in developing countries. Three senior cabinet members visited India in January 2000 for CII Partnership Summit–Mr. Essop Pahad, Minister in the Office of the President, Mr. A.M. Omar, Minister of Transport and Mr. A Erwin, Minister of Trade and Industry. There has also been a regular exchange of visits by defence, trade and NGO delegations. These exchanges along with various other joint initiatives that have been undertaken have set the bilateral relations on a sound footing. There is scope for expanding the cooperation further.

Expanding the Areas of Cooperation

Enhancing Economic Ties:

Several areas with potential for closer cooperation have been identified. South Africa has given priority to development of small-scale enterprises and is looking towards India for help. India has vast experience and expertise in this area. India like most developing countries had identified these enterprises as vital for economic growth. Apart from contributing 40 per cent of India's industrial production, the small-scale sector also accounts for 35 per cent of exports. Three million businesses provide jobs to 17 million people accounting for 12 per cent of domestic product. These small businesses produce items ranging from pins to intricate satellite components. Almost 8000 items are produced by this sector from leather products to car parts, information technology hardware, pharmaceuticals and chemicals and hand tools. With the growing unemployment levels in South Africa, the small and medium enterprises are being regarded as important for job creation. Thus there are many opportunities for collaboration between India and South Africa especially in the development of small and medium sized industries in both countries. The visit by Ms Vasundhara Raje MOS (Small Scale Industries) to South Africa primarily to attend the southern African chapter meeting of World Economic Forum in July this year is a step in facilitating such cooperation. 14

India has an internationally recognised and growing expertise in the information technology sector. There is ample scope for joint ventures between South African and Indian companies in that field. In December 1998 approximately 50 companies in the technology-related industry from South Africa visited India with the South African Minister of Communications, Jay Naidoo.

India can also assist South Africa in the fields of agro processing, textiles, components of heavy and light industries and manufacture and sale of cheap pharmaceutical products. Cooperation in these sectors could contribute towards alleviation of South Africa's unemployment problem.

South Africa offers an attractive market for Indian textiles and garments, because there are no quota restrictions on the goods coming into South Africa, despite South Africa's high import duty of 84 per cent on foreign textiles. India has a huge comparative advantage over South Africa in the textile industry owing to low labour costs in our country.

At the same time South Africa has enormous experience in the mining sector and can help India exploit its huge mineral reserves. Technological assistance from South African mining companies like De Beers and Gold Fields is seen as crucial for the development of India's mining sector.

South Africa has a fairly advanced infrastructure and could assist India in overcoming some of the basic infrastructure development needs. South African companies like Eskom are examining the possibilities of assistance in addressing electricity generation shortage.

There is also a large and growing market for South African goods in India. The main commodities of interest are steel, wool and fertilisers. South Africa is endowed with the largest reservoir of rock phosphates in the world and offers lower prices and freight rate advantages compared to imports from present suppliers like Morocco and US.

Thus South Africa provides promising scope for India for investment opportunities in various sectors of the economy. Moreover, the rates of returns on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Africa are the highest in the developing world. According to a recent World Bank report, How Can Sub-Saharan Africa Attract More Private Capital Flows, during 1990-1994, rates of return on FDI in sub-Saharan Africa averaged 24-30 per cent, compared to 16-18 per cent for all developing countries. 15

Training in Peacekeeping Operations:

In the last six years South Africa has been under lot of pressure from the Western countries and other African countries to share the responsibilities of peacekeeping in the continent. This was primarily under the rubric of "African solutions for African problems". The idea of participating in UN peacekeeping operations was a hotly debated issue in South Africa. It was only in October 1998 that the South African Cabinet approved the white paper on peacekeeping where the rules of South African participation in international peace missions were established. The initial hesitance of South Africa can be explained due to three factors. First, the aggressive and the destabilising role of the South African Defence forces during the apartheid era were fresh in the memory of its neighbours. A leading role in peacekeeping could raise the suspicions, a complication that the country could ill afford at the early stage. Second, logistically it was not possible for the country to undertake such a mission. The South African National Defence Force was going through a process of transformation and integration, a task that got completed by the end of 1998. Finally, the SANDF did not have any prior experience in peacekeeping. It is in the latter field where India could assist the South Africans.

India has been involved in a number of peacekeeping operations during the 50 years of its independence mainly in Africa. These include ONUC, MONUC (Congo), UNTAG (Namibia), ONUMOZ (Mozambique), UNITAF, UNOSOM II (Somalia), UNAMIR (Rwanda), UNOMIL (Liberia), UNAVEM, MONUA (Angola), and the most recent UN Mission in Sierra Leone. In the post-Cold War era the burden of UN peacekeeping has fallen on the developing countries. Indian contributions in terms of numbers rank first in the world today and are spread in three continents. The professionalism and dedication of the Indian soldiers, the quality of performance of Indian units deployed on such missions and execution of tasks by our staff officers have established the benchmark of quality in the field of peacekeeping operations.

Cooperation in Tackling Non Conventional Threats

The South African Defence White Paper, 1996 has identified non-conventional threats to security such as drugs and small arms trafficking as one of the major security threats to the country. The drug trafficking in Southern Africa has been described by some as a global threat to civil society. With the end of isolation and increase in international flight traffic, South Africa has become a favourite shipping point for international drug syndicates. According to one estimate, South Africa has about 135 drug syndicates. According to Robert Gelbert, former US Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement affairs, the most significant development in the drug trade has been the rise of the Nigerian drug traffickers as a global force. 16 Some trace the origin of Nigerian drug trafficking to India. In the early 1980s it is claimed that a group of Nigerian naval officers was sent to undergo further training. Instead they organised a trafficking network to smuggle Southeast Asian heroin to Europe and later United States. Today, Nigerian syndicates are one of the three largest drug trafficking organisations in the world. Another link between India and South Africa is with regard to smuggling of heroin and mandrax to South Africa from India. While the heroin is meant for transshipment to European markets, mandrax is destined for South African markets. There have been a number of seizures in and around Bombay by the Narcotics Control Board (NCB) of mandrax bound for South Africa. The largest seizure was of about 2.8 tons of mandrax in Bombay. India banned the drug in 1984 but illicit production still continues. 17 Another route of mandrax trafficking from India is via Sri Lanka. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) now appear to be involved in the trafficking. The reports of their opening liaison offices in South Africa facilitates the shipment.

Associated with this is the problem of small arms proliferation. The Southern African region is awash with light weapons. In South Africa the level of violent crime linked to this problem threatens the consolidation of democracy. Cross border smuggling of small arms from Mozambique, Namibia and Angola has been held responsible for it. Much of the disarmament effort under the United Nations Operation in Mozambique (UNOMOZ) appears to have gone waste. A large number of weapons handed over to UNOMOZ were lost or stolen from UN armouries and stores. Some of these weapons found their way to South Africa. In South Africa the increase in armed crime has also been fuelled by the rise of licensed arms. In 1995 around 17, 617 firearms were reported as lost/ stolen. These concerns are echoed in New Delhi. India is a major transit point for drugs produced from the Golden Crescent and the Golden Triangle in South and Southeast Asia. It is also confronted with massive inflow of small arms in the country, basically to arm the militants. Faced with common challenges, both the countries could jointly devise strategies in dealing with the problem. One of the short-term solutions is border control. South Africa has secured the land borders by two electric fences Norex 1 from Komatipoort to Mbusini on the borders of Mozambique and Swaziland and the 137 km long Norex 2, which stretches from the Sand river (near Messina) almost to Botswana border. 18 Another fence along the Zimbabwean border has been proposed. South Africa could share its long experience and expertise in border controls with India.

Cooperation in the Indian Ocean

The Mbeki government has renewed its interest in the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Co-operation (IOR-ARC). India and South Africa, along with Australia, Mauritius, Oman, Singapore and Kenya are founder members of the Indian Ocean Rim Initiative. The IOR-ARC was formally launched in Mauritius in March 1997. Both India and South Africa have played a leading role in the formation of the organisation. In fact the concept of an IOR-ARC was first seriously mooted in November 1993 by Pik Botha, the then South African Foreign Minister, during his visit to New Delhi. He identified the IOR as an area of great mutual importance to both South Africa and India. In January 1995 during a visit to New Delhi, President Nelson Mandela put forward the proposal to form the Indian Ocean trading alliance which was enthusiastically received. During President Mandela's government the two countries had held extensive bilateral discussions on the proposed charter and objectives of the organisation. Both India and South Africa were in general agreement that security issues should be kept out of the scope of the IOR- ARC. On the issue of membership, there was potential difference of opinion. India favoured an exclusive approach, which involved gradual expansion of membership while South Africa, and Australia favoured an inclusive approach. This and some other factors while not leading to major difference of opinion between the two countries do seem to have resulted in a difference in commitment to this process. South Africa's initial post- apartheid excitement at helping to create an organisation that would expand its international links was supplanted by a growing sense of pessimism. Questions were raised about the benefits of being a part of this trading block. To some extent this low priority was due to the perception in Pretoria that India was using IOR-ARC as a platform to assert its global role. Further it was argued that due to the lack of direction in foreign policy in the Mandela era, South Africa was unable to put forward its agenda. In the process it was felt that South Africa was reduced to " following the initiatives of the others rather than shaping developments". 19 Mr. Mbeki's interest in South-South cooperation has led to the revival of South African interest in the IOR-ARC. This was reflected in South Africa's presence in the IOR-ARC Council of Ministers meeting in January this year. 20

Maritime Cooperation

Another area of potential cooperation that could enhance regional security is in the maritime domain. Both South Africa and India have long coastlines and maritime interests which need to be protected. India has a staggering 2.2 million sq. km of exclusive economic zone (EEZ), while South Africa has an EEZ of one million sq. km. Around 90 per cent of exports of both the countries pass through the sea. From the geostrategic point of view, South Africa forms part of the coastal region of South Atlantic and South Indian Oceans. Its geostrategic importance arises from its location, its strategic minerals, industrial base and extensive communications. It lies at the gateway between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Given the vulnerability, in times of crisis, of Suez and Panama, the Cape is still recognised as a major choke point. Strategically the Cape sea route is one of the world's most important routes. Approximately 30 per cent (154 million tons) of Persian Gulf oil bound for Europe and the Americas is conveyed around the Cape annually. There are six well-developed ports and a sound maritime infrastructure in South Africa, with good facilities for ship repair and potential to get involved in shipbuilding. 21 The guidelines for regional maritime cooperation developed by the maritime working group of the Council for Security and Co-operation in Asia Pacific (CSCAP) could be helpful in evolving a framework. They include various aspects like maritime surveillance, naval cooperation, protection of sea lanes and maritime scientific research training, smuggling and narcotics control, elimination of piracy, search and rescue operations.

Areas of Discord

In the post-apartheid era the joint initiatives taken by respective governments have set the bilateral relations on a sound footing. Nevertheless all relationships cannot be perfect and existence of differences is but natural. One of the persistent problems in the relationship is on the nuclear issue. South Africa is the world's first state to have voluntarily renounced nuclear weapons. It is also party to a host of nuclear arms control regimes including the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty(CTBT). They would like India to be a party to these treaties too. India is not ready to sign the treaties in their current format as it finds them discriminatory. India's position in this regard is well documented. There was a rising concern in India that South Africa has moved closer to the West on this issue. This closeness appeared to have a deep impact on the South African mind sets and this was visible also during the Durban summit of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM).

Durban NAM Summit: The NAM summit in September 1998 brought forward the fact that all was not perfect in the relations between the two countries. During the Durban summit Mr. Mandela's reference to Kashmir in his inaugural address and the stand taken by South Africa on the nuclear tests conducted by India (and Pakistan) upset New Delhi. Even though the correct balance was restored in both cases, the message conveyed by Pretoria's initial stand was not lost on New Delhi. India through its Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee took strong exception to Mr. Mandela's Kashmir reference, "all of us remain concerned that the issue of Jammu and Kashmir should be solved through peaceful negotiations and should be willing to lend all the strength we have to the solution of this matter". This was the first time in the history of the NAM that its platform was used to make a plea for taking an active interest and outside role for resolving the Kashmir problem. The wrong was undone when Mr. Thabo Mbeki conveyed his regret and apology to Mr. Vajpayee for what was perceived by India as an unwarranted reference. The matter was treated as closed . But the sense of hurt lingered.

On the nuclear issue too, South Africa's formulation–first enunciated in the draft resolution circulated to the coordinating bureau in New York well before the summit–was changed, but only after a protracted effort by India and others. Expressing deep concern at the re-emergence of the nuclear arms race in South Asia, the draft called upon "all states, with the capacity to produce nuclear weapons, to refrain from weaponisation of the capability and to desist from placing them on delivery systems". The final document however incorporated the traditional NAM position with a clear thrust on disarmament and a sharp criticism of the old nuclear haves for seeking to perpetuate discrimination and justifying their monopoly over weapons.

Nuclear Issues: South Africa's nuclear policy in the post-apartheid era has emerged as a constant irritant in the relations between the two countries. India had hoped that the inauguration of President Mandela's government in South Africa would give a fillip to its effort towards achieving universal nuclear disarmament. The African National Congress (ANC) in the past had been quite vocal in its support to nuclear disarmament. It "shared the commitment of the United Nations to general and complete disarmament under effective international control as resolved by the General Assembly at the special session on disarmament in 1978". 22 In recent years however, there has been a dilution in the stance of South Africa and it has drifted more towards the Western approach towards nuclear arms control. This was quite visible during the negotiations of the 1995 NPT Review Conference and the CTBT. While the decision of the previous government to accede to the NPT may have been motivated by the desire not to bequeath a nuclear capability to a government dominated by the ANC, there are few doubts on the decision in Pretoria. The South African position on nuclear issues could also be explained through their desire to avoid being isolated in the world community. After years of being dubbed a pariah, from the South African perspective it had very little to lose and a lot to gain in terms of "diplomatic dividends " from the negotiations on nuclear disarmament. At the same time South Africa did not want to alienate its neighbours in the region. After facing years of destabilisation the establishment of the ANC government had brought forth an era of peace and stability in southern Africa, the continuance of the nuclear weapons programme and not signing the NPT and the CTBT could have given the wrong signals.

South Africa's official response to India's nuclear tests at Pokhran in May 1998 was mild in comparison to that of the United States, Japan and other Western countries. The statement issued by the foreign office immediately after the tests expressed 'deep concern at the nuclear testing' and pointed out that the South African government "opposed all nuclear tests, since they do not promote world peace and security." However, there were reports which suggested that Mr. Mandela was indeed quite upset on the issue. Subsequently, Mr. Brajesh Mishra, principal secretary to the Prime Minister was dispatched as a special envoy of the Prime Minister to diffuse the tension between the two countries over it. While the government in Pretoria appreciates India's security compulsions that necessitated the decision to go nuclear, however they would like India to sign the NPT and the CTBT. India on its part considers them discriminatory and is unwilling to sign them.

The good news is that against the back-drop of Indian nuclear tests, South Africa has enhanced the efforts towards global nuclear disarmament. In the last two years it has been part of the New Agenda Coalition (NAC) which originally consisted of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Africa and Sweden. The NAC had responded to nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in May 1998 by calling for a new approach to non-proliferation and disarmament. In their joint declaration in (June 1998) the members of the NAC put forward a new agenda in an effort to rejuvenate the deadlocked talks at CD. 23 South Africa is also part of the Middle Powered Initiative (MPI). This coalition calls for rapid elimination of nuclear weapons.

India and the other members of the G-21 have in the past called for the establishment in the Conference of Disarmament (CD), of an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament to start negotiations on a phased programme with the eventual aim of eliminating nuclear weapons within a time bound framework. 24 South Africa while appreciating India's position does not agree with its time bound programme of nuclear disarmament. They appear to favour a step by step approach (incremental) without a firm time frame being defined. However, after the Pokhran nuclear tests in May 1998 India has moved away from its time bound position as propounded in former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's Plan for Nuclear Disarmament, tabled at the UN in 1986. Although India still favours the phased process of disarmament, it has dropped the emphasis of it being bound to a certain time frame. Thus it appears that India and South Africa have an almost similar position on this issue and apparently are on the same side at the CD.


In the post-apartheid era President Mandela and subsequently President Mbeki have emphasised on the historic bonds of friendship with India and the potential for mutually beneficial cooperation. They have time and again appreciated India's role in the anti-apartheid struggle and expressed gratitude that India came to their aid in the words of President Mandela, " when the rest of the world stood by or gave succour to our oppressors". 25 As a step towards cementing these ties the two countries signed a strategic partnership agreement in 1997. Both South Africa and India in their dialogue over the last six years have shown concern at the uneven impact of globalisation on the developing economies and agreed to coordinate their efforts for the development of South-South cooperation. 26 Nevertheless towards the end of the Mandela regime certain factors led to a slight cooling of the relationship between the two countries. First, the reference to Kashmir in the 1998 NAM summit by President Mandela led to great outrage in New Delhi and was viewed as a massive let down by an old friend of India. This event was also seen as an indicator of the rise of Pakistan's influence on the South African government. Mr. Mandela's leaving out India but visiting Pakistan during his farewell tour seemed to enhance this view. Second, the South African concern over the Indian nuclear tests once again highlighted the differences between the two countries over the nuclear issue. The active role played by South Africa in the NPT and CTBT negotiations led to the perception that South Africa was "toeing the Western line" and "following the apartheid regimes policies". This perception gained ground with the repeated reference to "need for full co-operation with North" by South African leaders including Mr. Mbeki in the same breath as " South-South cooperation".

South Africa's trade driven foreign policy under Thabo Mbeki is increasingly pushing for South-South solidarity with South Africa as the central pivot. Mr. Mbeki's critics scoff at it as "rhetoric" and suggest greater concentration on improving relations with the North. Since South Africa's major trade partners are in the North they argue, it would be beneficial for the country to build on those ties. However, Mr. Mbeki begs to differ,

"Those relations between the North of course continue to be very important. And they will continue to be an area on which we must work. But the continued North - South interaction should not, I believe be then taken as discouraging or minimising or making irrelevant, South - South Co-operation among ourselves. Because indeed I think that is where we are looking for growth. I think this interaction among ourselves in the context of South would probably offer greater possibilities". 27

President Mbeki seems to be committed to creating a southern group of seven. It has sought support of Egypt, Nigeria, Brazil and India in this regard. This emerging strategy is driven partially by the collapse of the World Trade Organisation talks in Seattle. South Africa is looking for partnership with India in conveying the concerns of the developing countries particularly against the northern trade protectionism.

Where does this leave India? Is there a contradiction in South Africa establishing a strategic relationship with India while maintaining its strong ties with the West particularly with the US? Not really, given the fact that today the relations between India and US are not antagonistic as they were during the Cold War days. Therefore it will be beneficial for us to leave the Cold War mind sets aside. However, even if we do away with our old mind sets, the same may not be possible for the South Africans. Within South Africa, the government, in particular the foreign policy establishment has been accused of maintaining the apartheid government's policies. For more than forty years the foreign office had been busy defending the apartheid government and its policies. During the days of the Cold War the Western forces while overtly critical of apartheid saw South Africa as an ally in the fight towards containment of communist (Soviet) influence in the region. Ever since the ANC has come to power, the foreign policy establishment has been in the throes of change. While it is true that the ANC has retained control over foreign policy establishment at the political level and has brought new recruits to the foreign service, the old bureaucracies are still there and old mind sets have not completely disappeared. This is quite natural, given the fact that it has been only a few years since the majority gained power thus it will take time to develop a new cadre. Nevertheless, even with a new cadre it might be difficult to bring about drastic change in its foreign policy. Here we must not forget the contradictions in South Africa. While the black majority runs the government, it is the whites that still have control over the economy. Ninety per cent of South African firms listed in the stock exchange are under the control of four major conglomerates owned by the whites. They are apparently in favour of maintaining the status quo and would not wish the government to take any stance, which would alienate their major trade allies. Therefore we should guard against relying too much on sentiments in dealing with South Africa. It is important that we take a pragmatic approach, taking into account the political and economic imperatives of the two countries. In economic linkages South Africa last year entered into a long term trade relationship with the European Union. It had already forged close links with the United States. One third of South Africa's foreign trade is conducted with EU. The top three foreign investors are UK, Germany and US. Also economic upliftment of Africa and southern Africa in particular seems to be their priority.

There exists a wealth of goodwill towards India in South Africa. We should take advantage of all the opportunities towards expanding the cooperation. The South Africans are watching India with interest. The large number of visits to our country, at various levels, Presidential and Vice Presidential, ministerial, academic and trade delegations point towards that direction. These visits continue in the Mbeki era. Five cabinet ministers have visited India in the last one year, including the minister of defence. Further, we must remember that it was Mbeki who first spoke of a "strategic partnership" between the two countries during his visit to India in 1996. During the recent visits by the Indian Prime Minister and Vice President the new leadership in South Africa had emphasised the importance of giving greater economic content to the strategic partnership, a sentiment which India can clearly identify with. Expanding the areas of cooperation would strengthen the links.


Note *: Research Officer Back.

Note 1: See India Digest (Pretoria), vol. 4, May 1996. Back

Note 2: See Acceptance Speech of then, Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, on receiving the Doctorate of Law at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, December 6,1996, p.4 Back

Note 3: Nelson Mandela's letter to Mrs Manorama Bhalla, Secretary, Indian Council Of Cultural Relations. Back

Note 4: See Speech by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alfred Nzo, in the national assembly, May 18, 1995. in Chris Landsberg, Garth le Pere and Anthoni van Nieuwkerk, Mission Imperfect : Redirecting South Africa's Foreign Policy (Johannesburg: Foundation for Global Dialogue and Center for Policy Studies, 1995) p.115. Back

Note 5: Addressing the Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs, March 14, 1995. See Department of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy Discussion Document, 1996. Back

Note 6: See, Ruchita Beri, "The Potential and Prospect for Strategic Partnership" Strategic Analysis, May 1997, vol.20, no.2 and also "India Seeks to Build 'Strategic Partnership' with S. Africa " Hindustan Times, October 7,1997 Back

Note 7: "Armscor Exports Drop by R435m" The Citizen (Pretoria), August 8,1997. Back

Note 8: Business Day(Johannesburg), December 12, 1996. Back

Note 9: Jane's Defence Weekly, August 12, 1998. Back

Note 10: Business Day (Johannesburg), May 4, 1998. Back

Note 11: Government of India, Ministry of Defense, Annual Report 1998-99, p.108. Back

Note 12: " India Launches Projectile Study" Jane's Defense Weekly, April 8, 1998, p.15. Back

Note 13: Jane's Defence Weekly, August 12, 1998. Back

Note 14: Business Day (Johannesburg), July 18, 2000. Back

Note 15: Statement by Dr. K.Y Amoako, UN Under Secretary General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa during the Conference of African Ministers of Finance held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. March 31 to April 2, 1997 at <> Back

Note 16: Robert S Gelbard, "Drug trafficking in Southern Africa" in Robert I. Rotberg and Greg Mills, eds., War and Peace in Southern Africa : Crime, Drugs, Armies and Trade (Washington: Brookings, 1998), pp.172-183. Back

Note 17: Tara Kartha, "Non- Conventional Threats to Security: Threat from the Proliferation of Light Weapons and Narcotics" in Jasjit Singh ed., South Africa - India: Strategic Partnership into the 21st century (New Delhi: IDSA, 1997) pp.146-147. Back

Note 18: See Glenn Osthuysen, Small arms Proliferation and Control in Southern Africa. (Johannesburg: SAIIA, 1996) pp. 26-36. Back

Note 19: Mfundo C Nkuhlu, "South Africa and North / South" in Chris Landsberg and Garth le Pere and Anthoni van Nieuwkerk,Mission Imperfect : Redirecting South Africa's Foreign Policy ( Johannesburg: FGD, Centre for Policy Studies, 1995) Back

Note 20: Francis Kornegay, "SA can be North-South Bridge" Business Day, February 7, 2000. Back

Note 21: See Robert Simpson- Anderson, "The South African Navy" in Greg Mills ed. Maritime Policy for Developing Nations, (Johannesberg: SAIIA, 1995 pp.273-290. Back

Note 22: See ANC, Foreign Policy Perspective in a Democratic South Africa, December 1994. Back

Note 23: See working paper presented by the NAC at the NPT RevCon, New York, April 24-May 19,2000 Strategic Digest, vol. 30, no.6, June 2000, pp.733-35 Back

Note 24: Sally Morphet, " The Non-Aligned and their 11th summit at Cartagena, October 1995", The Round Table, no.340, October 1996, pp.455-463. Back

Note 25: See Address by President Nelson Mandela at the banquet hosted by the Indian President in his honour on January 25, 1995, India Digest, and High Commission of India, Pretoria vol.4, and May 1996 p. 8. Back

Note 26: This is quite clearly mentioned in the, " Red Fort Declaration on a Strategic Partnership between India and South Africa" signed on March 28, 1997. Back

Note 27: Speech of Mr. Thabo Mbeki at the FICCI meeting on December 6, 1996 in New Delhi. Back