A war of words has erupted between the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) and the Democratic Alliance (DA) following revelations that the South African government incurred a bill of R180 million hosting the recently held 15th BRICS Summit at Sandton.
Earlier this week, DA Member of Parliament, Emma Louise Powell said a parliamentary question put to Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Dr Naledi Pandor by the DA has revealed that Dirco spent “a staggering” R104,350,405 hosting the three-day BRICS summit.
“This is in addition to the R75 million spent by the South African Police Service (SAPS) protecting attendees at the summit, despite most international delegations being accompanied by their respective national security agencies,” said Powell.
“We now know that between SAPS and Dirco, the three-day BRICS summit cost the South African taxpayer no less than R180 million.
“This grotesque expenditure is a kick in the teeth for ordinary South Africans who have been left to fend for themselves in a country with one of the highest crime and unemployment rates in the world,” she said.
These millions, according to the DA, spent on a “talkshop”, could have been spent on addressing the crippling cost of living crisis that South Africans are currently battling.
Reacting to Powell, the spokesperson for Dirco, Clayson Monyela said his department is “dismayed by the misguided statement” issued by the DA on the summit which brought together leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
“The hysterical reaction of the Democratic Alliance confirms the DA’s misunderstanding of the economic benefits of hosting such international conferences and other meetings,” said Monyela.
“While it is true that just over R100 million, as reported by Dirco, was contributed towards the successful hosting of the BRICS summit, the economic benefits to the City of Johannesburg far outweigh the R100 million Dirco contributed.”
He said the support given by the South African government to the numerous delegations was limited, and the visitors spent money significantly during their stay in South Africa.
“To illustrate this, South Africa provided courtesy support to only four delegates per country. This is a normal international practice. All the delegations attended with additional accompanying persons and paid fully for their accommodation, meals, etc,” said Monyela.
“We even had one delegation with over 100 people, who all were accommodated in a hotel and paid for in full.”
Monyela said Powell chose to ignore the voices of different businesspeople who were interviewed on various media platforms, expressing satisfaction with the business they got because of the BRICS summit.
“Needless to say, it was South Africa’s responsibility as a member of the most important grouping of emerging countries in the world today to host the BRICS summit, as it was an expectation of each BRICS member, every five years,” he said.
“The list of benefits South Africa gained is endless. Key, among many priorities that South Africa set for itself during the summit, was to strengthen the partnership between BRICS and African countries.
“In this regard, BRICS leaders reiterated their support for the African Union’s Agenda 2063, in particular, they supported the operationalisation of the African Continental Free Trade Area through economic and financial cooperation between BRICS and African countries,” said Monyela.
South Africa’s overall trade with its BRICS partners has increased by an average growth of 10% over the period 2017-2021. Total South African trade with BRICS reached R830 billion in 2022 from R487 billion in 2017, according to figures released by Dirco.
Last year, BRICS accounted for 21% of South Africa’s global trade.
“It would help if the DA and its Members of Parliament such as Ms Powell were to take time to familiarise themselves with the immense benefits of BRICS membership before making unfounded comments in public,” said Monyela.
The first day of the BRICS summit in August coincided with State Visit by President Xi Jinping, leader of the People’s Republic of China, who held high-level consultations with President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
In September, the Chinese Embassy in South Africa revealed that over 200 Chinese-funded enterprises have created more than 400,000 jobs across South Africa.
At the BRICS summit in August, the Russian delegation was led by Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he would only attend the summit virtually.
The President of the Federative Republic of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi, Minister Lavrov joined President Ramaphosa at the BRICS summit in Johannesburg.
The DA said it will now submit a Promotion of Access to Information (PAIA) request, asking for a full breakdown of each invoice cost, the service providers and procurement processes that were followed around BRICS summit.