"In the upsurge of anti-colonial and freedom struggles that swept through Asia and Africa in the postwar period, there could hardly be a liberation movement or national leader who was not influenced one way or another by the thoughts, activities and example of Pandit Nehru and the All India Congress.
If I may presume to look back on my own political education and upbringing, I find that my own ideas were influenced by his experience."
-Nelson Mandela, in a letter from prison to India, August 3, 1980
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Nehru had significant influence on the thinking of young minds in South Africa.
His writings were avidly read by Indians as well as Africans as testified by the moving letter sent by Nelson Mandela from prison when he received the Nehru Award for International Understanding.
India's complaint to the United Nations on the treatment of Indians in South Africa was taken up soon after Jawaharlal Nehru became head of the Interim Government in September 1946.
The Indian delegation took care to ensure that India's espousal of the rights of people of Indian origin was in the context of opposition to all racial discrimination.
India helped to secure support for the freedom movement from governments as well as world public opinion.
The India League in London set up a South Africa Committee to promote solidarity with that movement.
The struggle and sacrifice of the Indians in South Africa, and the actions of the Indian Government under the leadership of Nehru, persuaded African militants to overcome their hesitations about multi-racial unity and build a united democratic front.
Jawaharlal Nehru was always responsive to requests from the leaders of the movement in South Africa.
In 1955, when India secured the exclusion of South Africa from invitations to the Asian-African Conference in Bandung, ANC wished to send Moses Kotane and Moulvi Cachalia as observers to the Conference.
It approached Nehru for assistance: He offered not only to take them with him but also to introduce them to all the leaders at the Conference.
While exhorting Indians abroad to identify with the legitimate aspirations of the indigenous people, he educated Indian public opinion to recognise that the problem of Indians in South Africa was inseparable from the struggle of the African people.
He said in a speech in Rajya Sabha on December 15, 1958: "The question of the people of Indian descent in South Africa has really merged into bigger questions where not only Indians are affected but the whole African population along with... any other people who happen to go to South Africa and who do not belong to the European or American countries."
(The writer is a former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations)