Kalam's Africa safari draws to glittering close

Updated on Sep 18, 2004 09:42 PM IST

A medley of ballet, zulu and kathak dances brought the curtain down on President's Africa safari on Friday night.

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PTI | ByIndo-Asian News Service, Durban

A vibrant medley of ballet, zulu and kathak dances, symbolising a multicultural symbiosis, brought the curtain down on Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam's weeklong Africa safari on Friday night.

Bidding farewell to the land that welcomed him with open arms everywhere he went, Kalam paid a tribute to South Africa's extraordinary spirit of perseverance in winning freedom from apartheid 10 years ago and moving on.

"The people of South Africa deserve to be complimented on the extraordinary spirit of reconciliation they exhibited in the last decade," the president said, speaking at a civic reception for him at Chatsworth, a Durban neighbourhood with a large number of people of Indian origin.

"India and South Africa are connected through their struggle for freedom."

The crowd at the Chatsworth stadium, where the function was held, whooped and cheered for the Indian president even as they sang the South African national anthem with fervour. They chanted "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" and enjoyed it most when Zulu dancers took the stage.

South Africa has around 1.2 million people of Indian origin, constituting about 2.5 percent of the country's total population of 45.5 million.

Many of their ancestors were brought as slaves or indentured labour. The bulk of Indians came to work on the sugar farms.

The largest Indian settlements are at Chatsworth, Phoenix, Tongaat and Stanger in Durban. Pietermaritzburg has a community of some 200,000 people of Indian origin.

Before arriving in South Africa, Kalam paid a four-day visit to Tanzania during which he interacted with the Indian Diaspora, academicians and children.

He also spent a few hours at the clove and spices island of Zanzibar, an autonomous region in Tanzania.

Kalam's visit has been described by Indian officials as a ceremonial and substantive one that has taken bilateral ties to higher level.

Kalam, the first Indian president to set foot on South African soil - a country with which India has a historic association and shared diplomatic ties - announced a host of initiatives to aid Africa, chief among them being a project to connect 53 African nations through a seamless and integrated satellite, fiber optic and wireless network.

He made the announcement as he became the first Indian leader to address the Pan-African Parliament that was televised live in the entire continent.

Kalam's visit came during the 10-year celebration of democracy in the nation previously divided by apartheid under its white rulers.

Coinciding as it was with the 100th anniversary of the Phoenix Settlement that Mahatma Gandhi established in Durban in 1904 as a crucible of his passive resistance theory, the president also visited this "island of peace and equality".

But the highlight of Kalam's visit was his meeting with South African legend Nelson Mandela at Johannesburg and his visit to Pietermaritzburg, retracing Gandhi's journey before he was thrown out of a train in an incident that changed the late Indian leader's life.

Kalam also travelled to Robben Island, the place where Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. So moved was the president by the sight of the tiny cell that Mandela stayed in that he could not stop talking about it in subsequent events.

A man keen to learn and as well as share his vast knowledge, the scientist-president kept the fun and ceremonial aspects of his visit to the bare minimum and firmly avoided such distractions as wildlife safaris that are a compelling part of the itinerary of most world leaders to this beautiful land.

India was the first country to sever trade relations with the apartheid government in 1946 and imposed complete diplomatic, commercial, cultural and sports sanctions on South Africa.

Relations were restored after a gap of over 40 years, with the opening of a cultural centre in Johannesburg in May 1993.

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