Professionals must join the BRICS Summit to rally SA back onto a path to Mandela’s dream

File photo of Nelson Mandela. As host nation we are reminded that the global community has not given up on Mandela’s dream, says the author. Photographer: Debbie Yazbek

File photo of Nelson Mandela. As host nation we are reminded that the global community has not given up on Mandela’s dream, says the author. Photographer: Debbie Yazbek

Published Aug 21, 2023


By Dr Sibongile Vilakazi

South Africa will welcome people from across the globe as host nation of the 15th BRICS Summit. More than 40 heads of state are expected to join the important meeting of nations, the highest number close to a decade since the funeral of our beloved - Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

This is one of the most important and highly anticipated summits of the global calendar for 2023. South Africa, having declined in popularity at Davos, World Economic Forum, and losing competitiveness as player and continental voice of reason in the global geopolitical and economic arena, is certainly poised to recapture the attention of a significant portion of the global community through international media and the BRICS door.

After three decades, South Africans have not been able to collectively effect permanent transformation on the structure of our highly concentrated economy, dominated by monopolies. This is compounded by utter disdain for the empowerment of professionals and an extremely conservative financial complex that locks them and the majority out of access of much needed capital, with very limited alternative entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial development pathways.

Serious challenges in energy security have come to dominate public imagination, harming international messaging on the South Africa of today. This constrains economic growth and causes irreparable damage to households, businesses and livelihoods of citizens.

Alarms have been raised on migration trends of a significant number of disillusioned professionals and youth in search for opportunities abroad and fear of diminishing prospects locally, resulting in a skills exodus and brain drain.

South Africa is against the ropes again just as she was in 1993. Back then the global community got involved in a totality of efforts to see us turn the tide. This period is as significant and symbolic in the lead up to national elections in 2024.

1993 led to changes in the way the world viewed South Africa, from site of crime against humanity to Tambo, Mandela and Gynwala’s dream of a sought-after democratic society and destination for international investment, trade, living, working, tourism and meetings of the kind that will be underway this week.

Many of this week’s visitors will have been influenced or impacted by this shared history. The nation is yearning for a valid vision behind which to rally to reclaim that position. This requires an inclusive process of meaningful, reflective engagement and involvement wherein professional bodies and the professional class imagineer the material outcomes of this important global gathering, to inspire social innovation and deployment of our most capable socio-economic and entrepreneurial patriots to compete for our desired future as a transformed, just and equitable society.

The BRICS meeting gives us a sobering chance to see ourselves as others see us, proving that while in many ways broken, our global standing is not beyond repair. There is greater hope still, despite calls for South Africa to exit the BRICS block, arguing that she is an unworthy member, punching well above her weight. It’s time to sound board with accountability partners and sister nations of the world, so that as in 1994, we may earn their trust into 2024. When we look at the state of our institutions and feel vulnerable, we must use the BRICS gathering as a clarion call to the professional class and for the rupture of a skills revolution for the future of work.

A community of member state professionals must employ international standards and competitive best practise in governance, management, leadership and innovation in order to action policy imperatives of the trade bloc.

Beyond our energy crisis and despair, the summit must show us great prospects in areas such as the hydrogen economy and our broader integrated resources mix. When we look at lack of access to finance the BRICS bank and its recent performance on bonds in the JSE must show us what is possible. When we look at the structure of our concentrated economy, we must focus better and comprehend the rural and township economies and invite BRICS investment to unlock informal trade and small business development.

We must shift our focus to emerging sectors of our economy such as Oceans, Digital, Creative, Green and soaring optimism in automotive and Electronic Vehicles. We must join the effort to realise the vision of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area. Faced with sluggish economic growth, high unemployment, crime and corruption, we must use this summit to recommit to a global fight against severe structural inequality.

As host nation we are reminded that the global community has not given up on Mandela’s dream. We do have what it takes to be the South Africa we think we are. We must visit Qunu, Dal’iBhunga’s grave-site for atonement and ask for light on the path to the global future BRICS must lead!

Dr Sibongile Vilakazi is the president of the Black Management Forum.