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Harnessing BRICS to achieve SA’s development objectives

Foreign affairs ministers from the BRICS nations met in Cape Town on Thursday. From left, Chinese deputy minister Ma ZHaoxu, Brazil’s Mauro Viera, South Africa’s Naledi Pandor, Russia’s Sergei Lavrov, and India’s Subrahmanyam Jaishanker. The talks came ahead of a heads of state summit in August. Picture: Rodger Bosch/AFP

Foreign affairs ministers from the BRICS nations met in Cape Town on Thursday. From left, Chinese deputy minister Ma ZHaoxu, Brazil’s Mauro Viera, South Africa’s Naledi Pandor, Russia’s Sergei Lavrov, and India’s Subrahmanyam Jaishanker. The talks came ahead of a heads of state summit in August. Picture: Rodger Bosch/AFP

Published Jun 2, 2023


By Olerato Carol Manyaapelo and Dominic Maphaka

With South Africa eyeing to hold the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) Summit, considerable attention has been given to the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in keeping with Pretoria’s obligations as a signatory to the Rome Statues of the International Criminal Court. On the other hand, the recurring load shedding and infrastructure development disparities exposed by the recent floods across the country raise a need to harness BRICS for South Africa’s development objectives.

How can South Africa harness BRICS to achieve its development objectives?

The Departments of International Relations and Cooperation will be hosting the ninth BRICS summit from August 22 and 24 in Johannesburg.

BRICS is an association of five major emerging economies, Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Post-apartheid South Africa has inherited a society that is characterised by the development disparities between white and black South Africans. Beyond the power utility, Eskom, which was designed to cater to the minority white communities, the ANC-led government faced the colossal task of providing health facilities, schools and houses, among others. This development saw the government introducing the welfare policies such as the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) to redress the colonial-apartheid-sponsored racial inequalities. However, the persisting poverty, inequality, and unemployment have raised reservations and questions about the effectiveness of government development policies. Consequently, the government adopted the National Development Plan (NDP) Vision 2030 in 2012 as a long-term blueprint to facilitate growth and development.

At that time, South Africa’s development prospectives showed a positive sign with the BRICS countries enabling the country to weather the lingering global economic crises of 2008/2009. With the Western traditional partners hit hard by the crisis, former president Jacob Zuma’s administration harnessed BRICS to support South Africa’s national and continental development objectives. It is against this backdrop that South Africa lobbied for the establishment of the New BRICS Development Bank as an alternative institution to the strings-attached international financial institutions (the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) to fund the development of infrastructure in BRICS countries and other developing countries.

This period witnessed a decline in power outages with Zuma declaring on national television that the country would never have load shedding. In this context, South Africa signed an agreement with Russia to construct a nuclear project or plant envisaged to supply electricity and curb future possible power outages. The deal led by Rosatom (a Russian state-owned entity) was, however, frustrated by the South African media, civil society organisations, and opposition parties decrying its costs and lack of transparency, and alleging corruption. A pushback campaign and legal challenges from civil society groups and independent media along with a revoke by the new administration of Ramaphosa saw the nuclear deal being struck from South Africa’s energy plans.

Be that as it may, the ongoing energy crisis requires an urgent intervention, and the Western-sponsored renewable energy plan is unable to rescue the nation. It is worth noting that South Africa has benefited greatly from its membership in BRICS since its integration in 2010. Among others, the South African power utility, Eskom, has benefited from the loans of the New BRICS Development Bank to boost its infrastructure. The upcoming BRICS Summit could be used to draw support for South Africa’s green energy initiatives and harness the expertise of Russia and China to curb the ongoing energy crisis.

In this regard, South Africa should utilise the summit to resume plans for a nuclear procurement deal with Russia and lobby China and other BRICS partners to curb her ongoing energy crisis. While South Africa is largely rural, it has development disparities skewed in favour of urban areas. These development disparities have in recent times deepened and been exposed by natural disasters such as floods in some areas. In this context, learners found themselves stuck at home as bridges were either flooded or, in some instances, there were no bridges. A glance at the infrastructure development projects targeted by the New BRICS Development Bank manifests that lower-scale projects such as roads and bridges in rural areas are not included. Apart from the electricity projects such as the funds received by Eskom, rural development infrastructure projects are neglected.

South Africa should lobby BRICS to address its development disparities, in particular, targeting rural areas. Given that infrastructure development provides an enabling environment for the creation of small businesses, infrastructure development could enable the country to reduce poverty in rural areas.

Hosting the summit is a great opportunity for the BRICS countries to discuss the de-dollarisation, investments, trade, technology, and co-operation issues. The summit will also discuss the 19 countries which have shown interest in joining the BRICS group.

This summit is a positive platform for South Africa to draw support for its economy in areas such as the manufacturing and technology sector. Furthermore, South Africa will showcase its unique culture, heritage, and natural resources to attract investment and tourists from other BRICS countries.

South Africa can also use the summit to promote investment opportunities in other sectors of its economy, agriculture in particular. By hosting the BRICS Summit, South Africa will be able to showcase its capabilities, foster new partnerships, and strengthen existing ones with these important emerging economies.

The summit presents South Africa with an opportunity to cement its position as a reliable partner for overseas investors seeking to expand their business in the southern African region, thereby fostering joint ventures between its companies and those of other BRICS countries.

Arguably, the summit presents South Africa with an opportunity to learn the development model advanced by its BRICS partners. For a country whose underdevelopment is attributed to corrupt political elites, nepotism, and cadre deployment, the ANC-led government should lobby its BRICS partners to improve its governance. In light of the above, the government should plan beyond political interests by promoting and deepening professionalism advanced in countries such as China.

For its part, the ANC should, in keeping with its commitment to professionalise the public sector, liaise with partners such as China to train graduates outside and within its ranks to take up ministerial portfolios. This could facilitate the growth and development experienced by countries such as China where ministerial portfolios are entrusted to people with expertise in those areas.

* Manyaapelo and Maphaka are Junior Researchers at the University of Johannesburg’s Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL.