Blog: My journey to India - part 4

2010-09-30 00:00

That's my motto while I'm in India and if I say so myself, I think I've done a pretty good job of fusing the two in the short time I've been here.

Although the day is still young, I must admit that today's highlight has to be our informal sit-down with the South African consul general to India.

Busi Kuzwayo, a Durban native who has been living in India for the past five years, is a sight to behold as she strolls in to the Taj Hotel's business lounge where the South African delegation is awaiting her arrival with bated breath.

Kitted out in a grass green kaftan-like outfit that could easily be interpreted as an impressive fusion of African and Indian traditional garb, Kuzwayo attracts a few admirable stares as she strolls in with a regal presence before greeting the delegation and seating herself comfortably.

With a real live piano man playing the lounge's impressive high-end instrument with grace, Kuzwayo orders mint tea - which she recommends to the entire delegation - before fielding the multiple questions posed to her with ease.

Initially posted to India on a four-year contract which lapsed last year, Kuzwayo tells us that her contract was renewd for another term and she has loved every minute of her Indian experience.

Currently living in Mumbai with her partner and two daughters - the last of which was conceived in the country even though she was eventually born in South Africa - Kuzwayo says her main focus has been in trying to level the playing fields between the two countries because trade between the two has been skewed over the years.

"That's why you don't see many South African brands here but things are changing," she says.

Kuzwayo says there are many trade and business plans between the two countries and SAB Miller, South Africa's premier alcohol consortium, has already dominated the Indian market to the point that it is ranked second in the Indian beer market.

Talks are well under way for two of South Africa's leading insurance companies - namely Sanlam and Old Mutual - to make inroads in India and petroleum conglomerate Sasol along with diamond leaders De Beers have also covered much ground.

Incidentally, the latter was at riskof having their contract terminated and being shipped out of the country but that intended threat failed to materialise following an intervention from Kuzwayo.

"There's serious trade happening but there's still many barriers," she said.

The main trade barrier being the high trade tariffs.

For example, Kuzwayo said if you live in South Africa and pay R16 for a bottle of Four Cousins wine, by the time you get to India you can expect to shell out R60 for the same bottle but she is currently making a call for zero tariffs so that South African goods can thrive in India.

She said there has been much interest in skills exchange programmes between the two countries.

For instance, while South Africa has the gold and diamond reserves at its disposal, Indians are more skilled when it comes to gold and diamond cutting.

In turn, "South Africa makes the best wine in the southern region" and can easily share this highly profitable skill with interested Indians, said Kuzwayo.

She said there is also a schools exchange programme between the two countries, as well as exchanges related to information technology, construction and jewellery making.

Kuzwayo said it is not only mutually beneficial to maintain relations between the two countries, but also vital that they be strengthened.

"We invite business delegations from South Africa to interact with locals so as to enhance investor confidence. People here are very interested in our country and they want to know more and the World Cup did wonders to promote our image," she said.

Kuzwayo said she always encourages South African companies who want to attempt some sort of business dealings in India to approach her office "so that if something goes wrong we can intervene."

She said Indians refer to South Africans as "friends for all seasons" due to their shared past polictical struggles.

Asked what she misses most about South Africa, Kuzwayo quips: "I miss what is not here. I bring my pap, jelly tots, marmite and chutney but unfortunately I can't bring my boerewors."

She said Indians are very friendly people - a statement that the delegation agrees with wholeheartedly - and future relations look promising.

Coming from a corporate background, Kuzwayo says she was appointed during the Thabo Mbeki era and the former president was keen on "people who could facilitate economic growth."

She says the best part of her job is when she comes across people who want to get to know more about South Africa.

"It puts you on a high," she said.

Kuzwayo says India is an attractive market to tap into because it has "a very profitable industry that is also very entrepreneurial although cheap labour is quite rampant."

Before we know it, our time is over sooner than expected and Kuzwayo has to dash off.

But not beofre being asked who does her weave.

"Nigerians. There are some who live here and they plait quite well," she says.

She even offers to write down the address where I can buy virgin Indian hair wefted extensions but unfortunately for me the schedule that has been drafted for the delegation will not give much leeway for me to venture there.

Pity.

Oh well, at least it gives me another excuse to go back to India.

See pics from My journey to India

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