Modi, who arrived from Mozambique, was on the second leg of a five-day trip that will also take in Tanzania and Kenya in an itinerary designed to underline India’s growing engagement with Africa.
“Two-way trade has grown by over 300 percent in last 10 years,” Modi said after talks with President Jacob Zuma in the South African capital Pretoria.
“Industry-to-industry ties can not only bring rich economic gains to our societies — they can give a new shape to our partnership, and drive it to new levels.”
The two leaders signed agreements on information technology and tourism, and vowed to work on further deals in mining, pharmaceuticals and defence.
India is South Africa’s sixth-largest trading partner, with two-way trade reaching $5.3 billion in 2015-16.
Among the countries’ cultural and historic links is the 21 years that Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi spent living in South Africa as a lawyer and activist.
“We stood together in our common fight against racial subjugation and colonialism,” Modi said.
“It was in South Africa that Gandhi found his true calling.”
South Africa also has 1.3 million people of Indian origin, the largest diaspora population in Africa — a major focus of Modi’s diplomatic push across the world since taking office two years ago.
Modi was due to attend a thousands-strong diaspora event at a stadium in Johannesburg on Friday evening, having hosted similar rallies in cities from New York to London.
He will travel to the coastal city of Durban on Saturday, heart of the Indian community, and visit key sites from Gandhi’s life.
After their talks, President Zuma highlighted South Africa’s wish for reform at the UN — a stance closely in line with India’s long-running campaign to be made a permanent Security Council member.
India and Africa are together home to a third of the world’s population, but neither India nor any African country has a permanent seat on the five-member council.
“South Africa and India enjoy strong relations dating back to the struggle against apartheid,” Zuma said. “India was a vociferous campaigner against apartheid colonialism.”
India has been working to build ties with African nations as it vies for a greater share of the continent’s natural resources. Last year, it hosted a summit of Africa’s heads of state in New Delhi.
Across Africa, India’s economic footprint is dwarfed by that of its regional rival China, whose trade with the continent topped $200 billion last year.
But India keen to gain ground, led by private entrepreneurs with a growing interest in the continent’s burgeoning energy sector.
“India is trying to play catch-up with China but it has a very different approach,” Jakkie Cilliers, director of Institute of Security Studies in Pretoria, told AFP.
“It’s not a state-led approach, it’s got a diverse, business-led approach.
“India is the next global superpower, and we are all hoping in Africa that India’s demand will provide the next commodities boom for Africa.”
Relations have been strained by alleged racism, with African ambassadors recently claiming after the murder of a Congolese teacher in New Delhi that Africans in India live in a “pervading climate of fear”.