PRETORIA (AFP) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was due Friday to meet South African President Jacob Zuma on the second leg of an African tour aimed at boosting ties in a region where rival China has a strong presence.
Modi, who arrived from Mozambique, will head on to Tanzania and Kenya on an itinerary aimed at demonstrating India’s engagement in the continent.
“South Africa is an important strategic partner, with whom our ties are historical and deep-rooted,” he said ahead of his arrival in Pretoria.
Modi will attend a thousands-strong Indian diaspora gathering at a stadium in Johannesburg in the evening before visiting Durban, the heart of the Indian community in South Africa, on Saturday.
India’s economic footprint in Africa is dwarfed by that of China, whose trade with the continent topped $200 billion last year.
India is gaining ground, however, led by private entrepreneurs with a keen interest in the continent’s burgeoning energy sector.
“China has been far more active for many years than India and this is the start of a much more engaged India on the continent,” Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, of the South African Institute of International Affairs, told AFP.
“India now has Africa in its sights and clearly it’s about building on economic and diplomatic relations that have been around for a long time.”
India is South Africa’s sixth-largest trading partner, with two-way trade reaching $5.3 billion in 2015-16.
South Africa has been vocal on the need to reform the UN Security Council, making it a natural ally in India’s long-running campaign to be made a permanent member.
India and Africa are together home to a third of the world’s population, but neither India nor any African country has a permanent seat on the council.
Permanent members are Britain, China, France, Russia and United States.
During his stay in South Africa, Modi will honour the 20 years that independence hero Mahatma Gandhi spent in the country as a lawyer and activist campaigning for the rights of Indian people.
“History is witness to how Mahatma Gandhi’s stay in South Africa impacted him,” Modi said.
“He went to South Africa as a lawyer seeking work and returned to India as a strong voice for humanitarian values, who would go on to shape the history of humankind.”
In Maputo on Thursday, Modi set the tone for his tour by announcing a raft of cooperation agreements on agriculture, defence, security and healthcare.
India has been working to build ties with African nations as it vies for a greater share of the continent’s natural resources. Last year, it hosted a summit of Africa’s heads of state in New Delhi.
But relations have been strained by alleged racism, with African ambassadors recently claiming after the murder of a Congolese teacher that Africans in India live in a “pervading climate of fear”.