India’s relationship with South Africa is both fundamental and unique, dating back several centuries and is anchored in common ideals, ideas, interests, and icons – like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. However, their bilateral relationship remained strained for a long time due to South Africa’s apartheid government. Following its independence, India intensified its struggle at multilateral organizations like United Nations (UN), Commonwealth, and Non Aligned Movement (NAM), and was the first country to severe trade relations in 1946, and subsequently imposed political and economic sanctions. After a gap of four decades, India re-established trade and business ties in 1993, after South Africa ended its institutionalized racial segregation.

In May 1993, a Cultural Center was opened in Johannesburg. In November 1993, diplomatic and consular relations were restored during the visit of then South African Foreign Minister Pik Botha to India. The Indian High Commission in Pretoria was opened in May 1994. In 1996, India opened its permanent Office of High Commission in Cape Town, which was re-designated as Consulate General of India in 2011.

India and South Africa’s shared common experiences and collective strength have shaped how they both view the world together. As two nations who have shared their struggle to freedom, the responsibility to improve the lives of others is embedded within India and South Africa’s consciousness. After South Africa achieved democracy in 1994, it was the Red Fort Declaration on Strategic Partnership between India and South Africa, signed in March 1997 by then PM Shri Deve Gowda and Nelson Mandela, which set the parameters for a rekindled relationship.

Bilateral trade and investments – India is South Africa’s fifth-largest export destination, and fourth-largest import origin and is the second-largest trading partner in Asia. Both countries are working to boost trade volumes in the coming years. Bilateral trade between India and South Africa currently stands at $10 billion. In 2016, both countries set a target of doubling bilateral trade and investment to $20 billion by 2021.

Indian community in South Africa – South Africa is home to the highest number of Indian Diaspora in the African continent, with a total strength of 1,218,000 thereby constituting 3 percent of South Africa’s total population. The modern South African Indian community is largely descended from Indians who arrived in South Africa from 1860 onwards. The first 342 of these came on board the Truro from Madras, followed by the Belvedere from Calcutta.

Since 2003 onwards, India celebrates Pravasi Bhartiya Divas (PBD) each year on 9th January (the day Mahatma Gandhi returned from South Africa to India). Various mini-PBDs are also held regionally. The fourth in the series called ‘PBD-Africa’ was held in Durban, South Africa, on October 2010. This event also marked the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Indian’s in South Africa.

One of the event’s activities is Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award (PBSA), which is the highest honor conferred on overseas Indians, including in Africa. Some of the awards winners from South Africa are Prof Fatima Meer (2003), Ahmed Kathrada (2005), Sisupal Rambharos (2006), Billy Nair (2007), Ms Khorshed Noshir Ginwala (2012), Ismail E. Ebrahim (2013), Ms Ela Gandhi (2014), Essop Goolam Pahad (2015), Swami Sardaprabhananda and Anil Sooklal (2019).

ORF Online