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Sonia in South Africa

August 23, 2007

Sonia Gandhi, the Congress party president, is on a visit to South Africa this week. With the United Progressive Alliance government facing a concerted and strident attack from its Left allies over the India-US nuclear deal, the UPA chairperson was forced to drop Durban from her itinerary.

She called on former South African president Nelson Mandela at his office in Johannesburg and termed her visit to the country as a pilgrimage. She said her visit would have been incomplete without meeting 'Madiba' -- an honorary title adopted by elders of Mandela's Thembu clan.

India and South Africa have excellent relations, but, as one government official pointed out to correspondents last fortnight, New Delhi was upset a few years ago when then president Mandela visited Pakistan but did not travel to a nation that had nourished the African National Congress through the apartheid years.

New Delhi's relations with Pretoria have greatly improved after Thabo Mbeki assumed the South African presidency. So much so that India, Brazil and South Africa formally launched a new combine in Brasilla last September, the India-Brazil-South Africa Trilateral.

Mandela, understandably frail at 89, spent 27 years in prison for his struggle against apartheid and was deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi.

Sonia presented Madiba with Gandhi's Way, a book which celebrates a centenary of the Mahatma's philosophy of peace and humanity.

Photograph: Sonia Gandhi and Nelson Mandela at the Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg. Photograph: Paballo Thekiso/AFP/Getty Images

Also read: 'This was a place of tears, of suffering, of humiliation'

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