Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

South Africa Rolls Out Red Carpet For BRICS Summit

South Africa will put its best foot forward at the upcoming 15th BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit to be held in Johannesburg.

With a few hours to go before the start of the three-day summit that will get underway tomorrow, government has indicated that all is in place for the all-important gathering that will be held at the Sandton Convention Centre.

This year’s summit is the first to be held in person since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent global restrictions.

While the summit brings a level of frustration for motorists who find themselves in traffic in the Sandton central business district and related routes, the all- important gathering will show that South Africa is an important voice internationally.

“The fact that there’s more engagements with the BRICS countries helps contribute to more business and more trade between South Africa and the other BRICS countries. Those other countries see South Africa potentially as the gateway to at least southern Africa, if not the whole continent,” said Professor Daniel Bradlow of the Centre for Advancement of Scholarship at the University of Pretoria.

Bradlow points out that it is important that the meeting goes well “because then people can say that South Africa is a country we can do business with and rely on.”

The country on the southernmost tip of the African continent, was invited to join the bloc in 2010 and in 2011, South Africa attended its first summit of the group of leading emerging markets and developing countries.

Having been part of the bloc for over a decade, South Africa assumed the chair of the BRICS in January 2023. This year’s summit will be the third one that South Africa hosts as chair.

“We’re a member of an exclusive club in which the leading voices in the global South are also members,” Bradlow said of South Africa’s membership to the bloc.

South Africa has also benefited from loans obtained from the BRICS New Development Bank which was set up by the five founding countries of BRICS in 2015.

In April 2021, the Board of Directors of the New Development Bank (NDB) approved a USD 1 billion COVID-19 Emergency Program Loan to the South African government. The loan was to support government in its efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

The loan was part of the second batch of COVID-19 Emergency Program Loans to NDB’s member countries focusing on economic recovery.

At a recent media briefing, International Relations and Cooperation Minister, Dr Naledi Pandor said that the bank had to date approved 12 projects in South Africa, valued at around $5.4 billion, to improve service delivery in critical areas.

The NDB was established to mobilise resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other emerging market economies and developing countries, complementing the efforts of multilateral and regional financial institutions for global growth and development.

In 2021, the bank initiated a membership expansion exercise and admitted Bangladesh, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay as new member countries.

Expansion and other matters

Among the range of issues to be discussed at the summit, is that of the possible expansion of the BRICS footprint.

“The big issue in a sense will be [on whether] should the BRICS expand and take in new members or not and there’s differences of opinion among the five [member countries] on what the criteria should be for doing this and who should be admitted; so that will be a big issue, not the only one but that will be a big issue,” said Bradlow.

In what can be described as a “special” televised address to the nation on Sunday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa said South Africa supports the expansion of the membership of the bloc saying the “value of BRICS extends beyond the interests of its current members.”

This is also the sentiment of Chinese Ambassador to South Africa, Chen Xiaodong who said that the body is “a big family of good partners, based on mutual assistance for a win-win cooperation”.

This as over 30 Heads of State and Government from across Africa will be attending the summit. Furthermore, over 20 countries have formally applied to join BRICS and several others have expressed an interest in becoming part of the BRICS family.

The summit has to some extent been eclipsed by whether Russian President Vladimir Putin would be attending the gathering in person. This is after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants against President Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova in March for allegedly being responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation and transfer of children from Ukraine to Russia.

In July, the Presidency announced that the Russian President would not be attending the summit “by mutual agreement” but that he would be attending it virtually adding that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would lead the Russian delegation.

At a recent state of readiness media briefing, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor said South Africa chairs the BRICS in a “dynamic global environment where developments in the ICC were the sole topic of discussion around the summit for most of the year.”

At the time she said that the country was aware of “our domestic and international legal obligations.”

Reflecting on the President Putin matter, Bradlow said:  “If he had come, it would have been terrible because South Africa would have been damned if we do and damned if we don’t.”

“We’ve been spared that. But the Ukraine war and Russia’s situation is definitely going to have an impact on the summit but it won’t be as bad as it would have been had Putin come,” said the professor.

Bradlow said the expansion of the bloc will be a big issue at the Summit.

“The big issue in sense will be should the BRICS expand and take in new members or not.  There’s differences of opinion among the five on what the criteria should be for doing this and who should be admitted. So that will be a big issue, not the only one but will be a big issue.”

Bradlow said he would like to see the interests of the African continent being promoted.

“The ones that makes sense here is food and fertilizer with Russia. I know it was raised in a meeting when Ramaphosa was there but that it gets raised in this context again.

This as the Leaders of the African Peace Initiative issued a joint statement “called for specific steps to remove obstacles to Russian grain and fertilizer exports, thus allowing the resumption of the full implementation of the Black Sea package initiative of the United Nations Secretary-General.”

The leaders further called upon the United Nations to take necessary action in order to release 200 000 tons of Russian fertilizer blocked in European Union seaports for immediate and free delivery to African countries.

“The issues of global governance reform and around sovereign debt issues is important and also because climate is such an important issue.”

Wish list

On the professor’s wish list is the campaign for a third African chair on the Board of Directors of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“The one that which is the most realistic that you can get action on is to campaign for a third African chair on the Board of Directors of the IMF. Africa’s voice is so weak from a voting point of view in the IMF and the two executive directors out of 24 that represent sub-Saharan Africa basically… and they each represent about 22 or 23 countries. So it would be good to have a third person who could take on some of that burden and be another voice for Africa,” said Bradlow.

No doubt being a member of BRICS has enhanced South Africa’s position and influence as an important emerging economy. It also has given the country access to policy and technical expertise of larger and established economies.

The red carpet has been rolled out; let us heed the President’s call to extend a warm South African Ubuntu to all our visitors.

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