For many South Africans of Indian origin, D-day has arrived – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives at Waterkloof Airbase on Thursday night for his much-anticipated visit.
Thousands have participated in the SAWelcomesModi campaign, and over 10 000 will congregate at the Coca Cola Dome on Friday night to hear him speak and to watch a cultural extravaganza.
Modi is on an African tour which also includes Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya, with South Africa as the undoubted highlight.
This is Modi’s first official visit to South Africa as head of state, following an invitation to visit South Africa from President Jacob Zuma at the India-Africa Summit in Delhi in 2015.
He has a packed programme including official talks with Zuma at the Union Buildings on Friday, the Dome on Friday night, and a visit to KwaZulu-Natal on Saturday where he will visit the Pietermaritzburg station where Mahatma Gandhi was thrown off a train on June 7, 1893.
In many respects Modi will be making a pilgrimage in the footsteps of the man who organised passive resistance against racist colonial rule in South Africa and went on to become the engine of the freedom struggle in India.
Modi will also visit the Phoenix settlement near Durban to see the house where Gandhi lived, where he will light a candle. He will be met by Gandhi’s granddaughter Ela Gandhi, a veteran struggle stalwart in South Africa, who was an ANC member of parliament with Phoenix as her constituency. Ela Gandhi is revered by the Indian public who clamour to see her when she visits India. She currently chairs the Gandhi Salt March and Gandhi Development Trust, as well as producing the monthly paper Satyagraha. Ela Gandhi said she was preparing for Modi’s visit to Phoenix.
“We look forward to hosting the Indian leader. The Indian government has not only provided funding for some of our projects in Phoenix, but has provided skills training in ICT which is much needed in our area,” Gandhi said.
“The Indian government always supported the anti-apartheid struggle – both the Congress Party and the BJP when they were in power.”
But not all South Africans have embraced Modi’s visit, with some ANC branches and some Muslim organisations writing letters of complaint to the Department of International Relations and Co-operation about Modi being invited for an official visit.
The perception among Modi’s detractors is that he has not been an inclusive head of state and was governor of Gujarat in 2002 when mobs dragged Muslims into the streets, many of whom were raped and killed. Ela Gandhi said Modi was well aware of her criticism of Hindu extremists when she went to Gujurat and call- ed for perpetrators to be prosecuted.
“There have finally been some prosecutions, which is progress, but it took a long time,” she said.
The South African government believes Modi’s visit will strengthen bilateral relations and provide opportunities in trade and investment.
Modi is arriving with a substantial delegation of Indian business people and captains of industry who will meet the South African business community.
[Source: Independent Foreign Service]