South Africa’s foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, visited India recently for the India-South Africa joint ministerial commission and IBSA ministerial meeting. She spoke to Faizal Khan about Arab unrest and South Africa’s historic and contemporary relations with India.As the biggest economic and military power in the continent, what has been South Africa’s response to the violence in Libya?
We have responded adequately through the UN Security Council resolution on Libya. In fact, as non-permanent members of the UNSC, South Africa and India co-sponsored the resolution. We abhor any use of live ammunition against innocent civilians who are exercising their democratic rights to air their grievances. Such violence shouldn’t be allowed in any corner of the world. The unrest in North Africa and the Middle East was bound to come. I don’t know of any dictatorship that lasts forever.
Once the dust settles, what would be the major challenges for these countries?
Thirty years ago, people were laughing at India, which was the world’s biggest democracy, but one of its poorest. Today, India is an emerging global power, but still democratic. India has proven to the world that democracy and economic development can work side by side. Autocratic and despotic rule is not a guarantee for economic development. How did we have regimes like in Egypt? How did we allow them for so long? We have learnt the lesson that democracy delayed is justice denied.
How could India help these nations build a lasting democracy?
We should be ready to help by incubating strong institutions of democracy that do not depend on who is in power. Like an independent electoral commission, a justice system not pliable to the whims and fancies of those in power and strong parliamentary institutions at local level like the panchayati raj institutions in India. These are the pillars to build strong political parties with strong democratic credentials. Democracy doesn’t start in Parliament. It starts where the people live, in the panchayat.
How is South Africa’s new BRIC membership going to help the country?
This is a group of emerging powers – politically, economically and culturally. The missing element was that there was no African country in that fold. We are truly humbled by membership. We owe it to our continent as we run the biggest and most diversified economy in Africa. Our infrastructure is unsurpassed and our financial institutions are known for their integrity. We have historic ties with the South. Think about the one billion population of Africa, don’t look at our 50 million people. There are 2.5 trillion dollars worth exploitable mineral resources in South Africa. These are not for take-away, but we could try and add value, so that they help us create more wealth for the larger part of South Africa and create jobs for the youth. Our goal is to create five million jobs in the next 10 years. We will spend approximately $117 billion in the next three years to overhaul our infrastructure.
As a former high commissioner to India, how do you see India-South Africa relations?
We haven’t looked back after restoring our diplomatic ties at the end of the apartheid regime. On the trade side, our relations are leapfrogging. We have our students who come to India to study IT. We have just celebrated 150 years of the arrival of Indians in South Africa. Later this year, India and South Africa will launch a three-month cultural extravaganza in each country. I can write a thesis on our relations.