April 27, 2017

Speaking at South Africa National Day, New Delhi

….from different countries representing Consulates, High Commissions in India, distinguished ladies and gentlemen. I think when we are celebrating freedom; it also means there is a freedom to have wine and cheese even when we are speaking. So, I don’t think we need to disturb the ambience of the room with very long, drawn-out speeches. But I did want to make a strong mention about the rich cultural and traditional ties, our shared passion for freedom, our shared passion for equality that both India and South Africa share. And it’s indeed a privilege for me to be amongst all of you here today, to speak the voice of all Indians who believe that this partnership between South Africa and India is a sustaining partnership, is a partnership that the people of both countries cherish. It is a partnership of shared tradition and shared interests of a better future for the people of both countries.

I am delighted that the leadership in South Africa has continued on the noble mission that Mr Tambo has left behind for us. I pay my respects to him. We all remember him on this auspicious day when we are celebrating South Africa’s freedom. We also recognize that the values that Mr Tambo stood for – passion, patriotism, integrity, and all of this coupled with humility is something that I think all of us in public life would love to assimilate, would love to absorb, would love to follow.

Of course, in some sense, South Africa also gave us the first baby steps to our freedom struggle. Mahatma Gandhi came to India from South Africa over a century ago. He brought with him the passion. He brought with him, also humility. He brought with him high levels of integrity. And he brought with him that zeal, that drive, which encouraged all of India to rise in one voice, which earned us our freedom in 1947.

So, in that sense, India does share a very very rich history and also is grateful for all the learning that Mahatma Gandhi brought back from South Africa – Good or bad – those learning helped him shape his mind, shape his agenda for India’s freedom. And even today, India continues to evolve. India continues to bring true freedom to large sections of society, which have been discriminated in India for several centuries just as there was discrimination in South Africa.

In fact, Nelson Mandela had spoken some golden words, which I personally believe helped me define my own working, my own life. Nelson Mandela had said, ‘the time for the healing of the wounds has come’, in his inaugural address 23 years ago. And I believe that that healing is something that the whole world continues to work on, that healing is not over across the world. And we will all have to work together to make sure that every section of the world gets the same sense of equality that Nelson Mandela stood for, that Mahatma Gandhi stood for.

In fact, Nelson Mandela was also honoured apart from the Nobel Peace Prize with the Bharat Ratna, one of the rare foreign individuals who has been conferred with the Bharat Ratna, and I believe a most deserving Bharat Ratna. He, in fact, looked up to Mahatma Gandhi as a political mentor, as an idol. And, for us back home in India, we are proud of the fact that India was one of the first countries in 1946 to stand with the South African people, to stand for their rights, to stand for freedom in South Africa. We severed ties with the then government. We, in fact, severed not only trade relations, but we subsequently imposed a diplomatic ban, commercial ban, cultural and sports embargo and led the world’s efforts to help South Africa emerge out of the shadow of the past into the era of freedom, into the era where every man could hold his head high in the spirit of true freedom.

In fact, Mahatma Gandhiji had acknowledged South African freedom struggle, and I quote his words, ‘a small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.’ And I believe even today, the world is experiencing a lot of change. The world is experiencing big things happening, often led by a small body of individuals. And in that, the BRICS movement, where both South Africa and India play an important role, is certainly defining and shaping the future of the world.

In fact, one of the comments that Nelson Mandela had made where he said, ‘it always seems impossible until it’s done.’ And at one point of time, for all of India, freedom seemed impossible. At one point of time, for all of South Africa, freedom seemed impossible. It is these encouraging words of our leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela who led from the front. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison. Mahatma Gandhi spent a large part of his life in prison and gave up his life for this country, and for the unity and integrity of this country.

So I do believe we are both countries blessed with a rich past, with a rich tradition and with a leadership, which has shown the world the path to peace, the path to freedom, the path of equality of all citizens of their countries, and in some sense, the path to development and progress.

I wish you all the very best and I do hope the people of both countries will continue to work together for peace and prosperity in our two respective nations and in the world. And I do hope in the years to come, each person who has come here, each person who believes in the Indo-South African partnership will work to strengthen that and will work for a brighter and better future for the people of both countries. My best wishes to you, and please do convey to your leadership and your people back home the respects and the good wishes of the leadership in India and of the people of India.

Thank you very much.

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