Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru once described India as “the ancient, the eternal and the ever-new”. This remains a fitting description of the most populous democracy in the world.
It is my pleasure, as always, to share this celebration with the diplomatic representatives of India and the Indian community in South Africa. We celebrate the Republic Day of India as friends of India, knowing that our people are joined by a bond unlike any throughout the world.
While there are millions of Indians living, working and raising their families across the globe, South Africa – and particularly KwaZulu-Natal – is privileged to host the largest Indian population outside of India.
The relationship between this province and the Indian people is part of the history of South Africa.
We are all familiar with the arrival of Indians on this soil as indentured labourers. We are aware of the enormous contribution Indian business (people) have made to our economy. We appreciate the flavour that Indian culture has imbued.
We remember the role played by Indian men and women in our liberation Struggle. We have learnt from the courage of India’s heroes. We have lived side by side for generations.
Our bond is born out of a shared overcoming of adversity. It has been strengthened by the contribution of South Africans of Indian extraction to the building of our democracy.
Indians have made their indelible mark in the spheres of politics, economics, business, industry, the arts, medicine, education and social discourse. So a celebration of India is truly our own celebration.
This evening we remember the moment, on January 26, 1950 when hundreds of years of hope and striving culminated in the birth of the constitution of the Republic of India.
Drafted over almost three years, India’s constitution was met with international respect and enthusiasm. The prime minister of the UK at the time (Clement Attlee) said this: “The Indian venture is not a pale imitation of our practice at home, but a magnified and multiplied reproduction on a scale we have never dreamt of.”
I remember how, in 1950, we who were still engaged in the liberation Struggle in South Africa celebrated India’s achievement. It encouraged us in what we hoped to achieve. It told us that the world was moving towards justice and democracy.
Today, as a nation that understands the value of a principled constitution, South Africa shares this celebration. We know that our constitution remains the foundation of our strength.
I personally have been inspired by India’s commitment to democracy and freedom. I admired how the drafting committee of India’s constitution was conscious of creating flexibility within the Indian federation. I have shared that aspiration for South Africa.
I still consider it one of the great privileges of my life to know the son of the Mahatma, Mr Manilal Gandhi, and his wife. I met him during the Defiance Campaign in Durban when he was released from jail. Later I met Mahatma’s granddaughter Ela Gandhi and her then husband Mewa Ramgobin.
Not only did Mahatma Gandhi’s presence quell the violence that marred India’s transition to independence, but his philosophy inspired the ideals of non-violence and passive resistance which guided the founding fathers of Africa’s oldest liberation movement.
Although I have had the privilege of sharing this celebration many times, it still touches me deeply to think of the journey our two countries have made. And that journey continues. Here in South Africa, we are preparing to hold our sixth national democratic elections. Thank you.