Despite the ratification of the Treaty of Pelindaba that prohibits African nations from nuclear commerce with countries that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), South Africa has said it is talking to "friendly countries" on using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Without naming the countries, South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said that considering the need for energy security, dialogue was on to meet the non-defence requirements of the countries. As it has not signed the NPT, India could not undertake nuclear trade with African countries.

The African Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone Treaty - also known as the Treaty of Pelindaba after a nuclear research facility in South Africa - requires that African countries do nuclear trade only with countries that agree on the full scope of nuclear safeguards for all their nuclear sources and associated facilities.

The treaty stands in the way of India sourcing uranium from several African countries, including Namibia, Gabon, Niger, Uganda and Angola and clinching a nuclear research arrangement with South Africa.

Zuma's visit

Speaking to The Hindu after completing her official engagements, Ms. Nkoana-Mashabane, who spent more than five years as South African High Commissioner here, said an important purpose of her visit was to prepare the ground for the visit of South African President Jacob Zuma in the first quarter of next year,

"Mr. Zuma's visit will be a very solid state visit. Besides Ministers, he will be accompanied by the chiefs of important state-owned enterprises as a mark of importance South Africa attaches to further improving trade relations with India. Our trade, which is currently $7 billions, would have been $10 billions, had it not been for the global financial crises," she said.

"I believe we will be able to make big ticket announcements in politics, economics, defence, science and technology and skills development. Besides we are reviewing the 35 existing agreements with India," she said. The two countries were also beginning to looking at economic projects in third countries.

Despite the blip caused by the black-listing of South African defence company Denel from taking part in Indian military hardware tenders, Ms. Nkoana-Mashabane was confident of the two countries striking a closer partnership in other areas of defence.

"Our defence cooperation goes beyond sales. We have had joint military exchanges between the navies, and there is also an exchange of personnel for training courses. We also do exceptionally well with India in post-conflict building in Africa."

Admitting that the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) had so far "just scratched the surface," she wanted more efforts to "strongly demonstrate its effectiveness by looking at their respective strengths and combining them."

For instance, she said, Brazil had a well developed aviation industry, South Africa was strong in electronics and India boasted of expertise in areas such as ship building. "If we combine these strengths, the cooperation will go a long way."

But the IBSA combine, she reckoned, was not sufficient. An impetus to closer economic cooperation would come from the signing of an India-South Africa Customs Union (SACU) free trade treaty. Agreements were reached between South American trading bloc MERCOSUR and the SACU, and the MERCOSUR and India.

"Once India and the SACU sign up, the cooperation is going to get better. IBSA alone is not sufficient."

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