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Making A Difference - OpEd by High Commissioner Ruchira Kamboj in the Cape Times of 24 April 2018

Posted on : 25-04-2018 | Back | Print

There are perhaps no two more natural partners than India and South Africa, two countries that have gone through the crucible of colonialism, oppression and hardship before they have emerged today as leaders in their respective regions for a new era of shared prosperity and growth for their two countries and people.

It is however the vibrant economic partnership between two strategic partners that is the focus of this article. Since 1993 there has been an appreciable accretion in two way trade and investment with India today ranking as South Africa's fourth largest trading partner, with substantial potential yet to be tapped.

There are over 150 Indian companies operating in South Africa employing over 18,000 nationals Tata, Mahindra, Motherson Sumi, Vedanta, Jindal Africa, Zensar, Wipro, Nihilent, Cipla are some names and there are others of course, all of them however have an equally strong emphasis on localisation, contributing thereby to job creation, one of the toughest challenges that any country faces. 

What is the business ethic that India brings to South Africa? A core set of values that sets India apart manifesting, excellence and innovation coupled with integrity, care and respect for the people of South Africa and their environment. Perhaps this comes naturally to us as representatives of a multi-cultural multi-lingual and multi-ethnic society operating in an equally diverse rainbow nation, albeit on a smaller scale. 

What also sets India apart is the corporate social responsibility programmes of its companies on ground, premised on the notion that CSR is a critical mission that is at the heart of everything that they do, how they think and what they are. 

Indian companies are committed to integrating environmental, social and ethical principles into their core business, thereby enhancing long-term stakeholder value and touching the lives of the people of South Africa. The CSR programmes of these companies aim to be relevant to the local and national contexts, keep disadvantaged communities as the focus, are based on globally-agreed sustainable development principles and are implemented in partnership with the Government, NGOs and other relevant stakeholders.

Tata, one of India's largest multinational conglomerates, and which has been present in South Africa since the 1970s, boasts of a particularly impressive track record. Its culture of giving back flows from the tradition of nation and community building sowed more than a century back by Jamsetji Tata, the Founder of the group. Tata companies are involved in a wide variety of community development and environment preservation projects in South Africa. The Group's social activities relate to health, primary education, skills training and entrepreneurship, livelihoods, women empowerment and strengthening services for the differently-abled.

As just one example, Tata's contribution to Operation Smile which supports free surgeries to repair cleft palates, cleft lip and other facial abnormalities deserves an honourable mention, as it lives up to the professed philosophy of its founders of compassionate change, development and progress. 

Mahindra, an Indian automobile giant, which has been present in South Africa since 2004 and with interests in diverse segments from farm equipment, infrastructure, financial services to information technology has been equally active in the area of giving back to society through its social responsibility projects. Under the Mahindra Rise philosophy, they have selected ‘education’ as a focus area in South Africa and hope to nurture myriad future projects around this theme. In 2016, they have distributed 5000 solar lamps to matric students across 75 underprivileged schools across the country. In 2017 they again selected an underprivileged school in Pretoria where the entire Mahindra team painted the school inside out. Mahindra has todate invested an amount of R 500 000 towards these project to make a difference to society.

A significant step will be the upcoming opening of their assembly plant for their light commercial vehicles in Durban in May 2018. Currently this project has earmarked an investment of about R 10million and a manpower generation of about 30 people, Mahindra expects this to pave the way in future for a larger scale assembly and opportunities for higher local sourcing thereby enhancing the “Proudly South African” credo.

Working ceaselessly, noiselessly, diligently the CSR activities of Indian companies are making a demonstrable impact on ground. This underlines a commitment to the sustainable development of South Africa and speaks of the commitment and ethic of a true partner and friend. As has been famously said: Each one of us can make a difference and together we make change. 

India is perhaps unmatched in the knowledge economy premised on our ancient ethos that knowledge is that one wealth that can only grow through sharing. In this vein, the Government of India offers fully sponsored training slots to South Africa across the widest spectrum of technical fields; since 1993 over 1500 South Africans have travelled to India and returned with glowing accounts of knowledge, study and growth. 

Our private companies have not lagged behind either. Tata Automobile Corporation South Africa provides training to employees of its nationwide service network in the country. It sponsors students who are sent to India to study IT and later absorbed in jobs by its IT arm, Tata Consultancy Services.  Others such as Nihilent, Zensar, CRI Pumps do much of the same through their Training Centres and Internship Programmes training, skilling and enhancing local skills, with the top local performers absorbed within these companies. 

In 2018, the Government of India hopes to inaugurate the Mandela Gandhi Centre of Excellence on Skills in South Africa through a multi-skills formation led by demand on ground which will further this unique connect between our two nations linking the people of india and South Africa through this substantive programme of academic cooperation. 

The jury must be out. India is a reliable and dependable friend of South Africa and one that is here for the long haul.  Looking ahead, this substantial presence of Indian companies will continue to engage in the effort to provide solutions to some of the country's major challenges. Indian companies could, for instance, usefully engage in the newly launched Youth Employment Scheme(YES) of the Government of South Africa. 

The strategic partnership between India and South Africa is further reinforced through substantive cooperation in a multilateral context through our common membership of BRICS, IBSA and IORA. Going forward in 2018 which celebrates 25 years of the establishment of diplomatic relations, India will continue to work in harmony and affinity with South Africa for a new era of shared prosperity for the benefit of our two countries and their people. 



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