Johannesburg - Foreign policy experts say South Africa needs to be more focused now in maximising relations with its BRICS partners to realise rapid growth in all sectors.
“The biggest thing that needs to be done post this summit is that Pretoria must put its house in order so it builds pragmatic policies that will maximise on various benefits. In other words, we need to search deeper and find what we can extract from India, Brazil, Russia and China,” said David Monyae, a political analyst and co-director at the University of Johannesburg’s Confucius Institute.
The gathering of the five presidents - Brazil’s Michele Temer, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, India’s Narendra Modi, China’s Xi Jinping and Cyril Ramaphosa - in Joburg this past week has been considered by many as South Africa’s chance to increase its influence on the global stage and strengthen the country’s ailing economy.
While the 10th Summit took place at a critical juncture in which China found itself at odds with the US over trade policies, Monyae said the trade spat between the two countries made the BRICS bloc more relevant than ever as it sought to assist developing countries.
Asked whether South Africa was concerned about aligning itself with countries that were in conflict with the US, Ramaphosa, addressing the media on Friday after the summit, said the BRICS countries were independent sovereign states who were not dictated to on who they should be friends with.
Monyae concurred: “State affairs are not about the feelings of the other person. President Ramaphosa is right in saying we have to protect our own interests. Certainly, our relationship with the US is not good. In fact, it is at its worst particularly now under Donald Trump’s administration.
“He doesn’t take African countries seriously. While we may be affected by these so-called trade wars to some extent, China is our biggest trading partner and the second-biggest in the world.
“Therefore we have to nurture this relationship.”
While China undoubtedly remained a dominant figure over the last couple of days with Xi promising a $14.7billion (R194bn) investment in South Africa, another international relations expert felt the participation by the three other countries could have been better.
Professor Garth le Pere, executive director of the Institute of Global Dialogue, said: “Looking at the BRICS agnostics, when China sneezes, BRICS catches the cold. But when it comes to Temer and Modi, I don’t think they have BRICS running in their veins.
“India struggles to play second fiddle to China and has sought to compete with it in various forms. Intra-BRICS tensions exist and can’t be ignored but I think South Africa is looking at the bigger picture and wants to be the country that serves as a normative glue between the different states,” said.
Ramaphosa, who held multi-bilateral talks with Russia and other BRICS states as well as meeting Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reiterated that the nuclear power deal with Russia would not happen right now.
“On nuclear, we said because our economy is not participating at a level we would like it to and have huge financial constraints, we are not able to proceed with a nuclear build programme.
“President Putin was relaxed about this and says that we (must) deal with our issues, and when the situation changes we can talk and that’s where we left it.”