The ANC’s national spokesperson, Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri, responded to the recently completed Johannesburg BRICS summit by pointing out that “a democratic South Africa will not align with military blocs, and equal rights for all will foster peace and friendship. The ANC-led government has paved the way for a multi-polar world, prioritising the interests of citizens and ensuring a sustainable future.”
Shawn Hagedorn, writing in Politicsweb on 27 August 2023, more soberly draws attention to the concern that BRICS membership “can’t possibly trigger a sustained and steep increase in SA’s job creation capacity. That requires tapping into the West’s far greater discretionary consumer spending.
“Instead, our profoundly incapable ruling party fixates on judging the imperfections of successful democratic countries. This sacrifices the life prospects of young South Africans to benefit autocrats and the elites who shape global discourse around criticising successful nations rather than promoting workable solutions.”
Hagedorn is a qualified certified public accountant and a chartered financial analyst. He considers his primary expertise to be in the rarely recognised field of commercially focused economic development.
Barry D Wood, a veteran US journalist who covered the Johannesburg summit, comments in The Daily Friend that “it is assumed that China seeks to lead developing countries’ drive for inclusion and equity. China’s unquestioned rise, both economically and militarily, provides a strong basis for leadership. But it may come to pass that democratic India, Brazil and South Africa will be uncomfortable being led by an authoritarian, non-transparent, communist China.”
When they consider these contrasting views, all politicians and political parties in SA need to be mindful of the entrenched supremacy of the Constitution and of their obligation not to act in ways that are inconsistent with it as spelt out in the first two sections of the Constitution. The treaty obligations of SA are justiciable and involve a plethora of duties towards other countries and towards fellow South Africans.
Then, there is the not-so-small matter of our Bill of Rights. The state in South Africa, unlike Russia and China, is obliged to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights guaranteed to all in the Bill of Rights. These rights are also justiciable, which means that those who consider that their rights are infringed or threatened are entitled to litigate their issues with the state.
Time will tell whether sidling up to the war-mongering, kleptocratic oligarchs of Russia and their friends in authoritarian, non-transparent, communist China, who have designs on the 168 islands that make up Taiwan, can be reconciled with fealty to the rule of law and the notions of open, accountable and responsive governance that places inherent human dignity, the promotion of the achievement of equality and the enjoyment of human rights at the centre of the national endeavours of South Africa.
These features of our polity assume greater importance at a time when more than half of the population of South Africa lives in poverty, and joblessness has assumed dangerously high proportions, especially among the youth of SA. According to the Gini coefficient of SA, we are the most unequal country in the world, certainly among those in which the Gini coefficient is measured.
Russia is currently at war with Ukraine. At the same time, tensions around the future of Taiwan could spill over into armed conflict in which China will likely be the aggressor. These facts and concerns belie the aspiration to “foster peace and justice” of which the ANC speaks.
It also appears to have passed the ANC by that communism in Russia ended in 1989 when the Soviet Union was dissolved. Vladimir Putin has been president in Russia since 2012, the same year in which Xi Jinping rose to the leadership of China and Cyril Ramaphosa became deputy president of the ANC.
According to Wikipedia, “under Putin’s leadership, Russia has undergone democratic backsliding and a shift towards authoritarianism. His rule has been marked by endemic corruption and widespread human rights violations, including the imprisonment and suppression of political opponents, intimidation and censorship of independent media in Russia, and a lack of free and fair elections”.
Nato support of the Ukrainians’ war effort pits the West (The EU, UK, US, Canada and other northern European countries) against Russia, which, quite apart from its involvement in BRICS, is a long-standing friend of China.
The “multi-polar world” of which the ANC speaks is difficult to divine. The G20 includes BRICS and Japan. The aspirant members of BRICS include a Muslim theocracy and questionable commitment to “equal rights for all” in many of the aspirant new BRICS members, including Iran, where women’s rights are particularly at risk.
The Indian prime minister has authoritarian tendencies, with an ego to match, as was seen when he objected to not being met by Ramaphosa when he arrived in SA for the Johannesburg BRICS meeting.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Tough Love Triangle: While Ramaphosa focused on Xi, Modi threw a tantrum and refused to get off his plane
It seems rather than a new multi-polarity, a bi-polar world in which “the West” (including Japan) is ranged against the “global South” (BRICS and others) is in the course of taking shape. It does not augur well for the future of peace and security. The last time there was a bipolar world was after the end of World War 2, and that heralded a long period of “Cold War” that only ended when the Soviet Union was unbundled in the wake of the collapse of communism in its component countries.
There are those in the ANC who still embrace communist ideology and who pursue the goals of the National Democratic Revolution with zeal. Their ideal is to secure hegemonic control of all the levers of power in society in much the same way as this has been achieved by force in China.
Our Minister in the Presidency for Women, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, even talks of class suicide to achieve political goals. On 25 April 2020, the minister let slip during a media briefing that she regarded the pandemic as an opportunity “to accelerate the implementation of some long-agreed-upon structural changes to enable reconstruction, development and growth” and possibly to consider “class suicide”.
Strategies of this ilk do not lead to freedom and security, nor do they necessarily create jobs and economic activity that could lift SA out of the poverty that 30 years of ANC governance has created. Active participation in BRICS may make much-needed funding for the SA state available at less cost than World Bank and IMF rates, but it comes or will come, with being beholden to those who are most powerful in BRICS.
Already the Chinese are gifting generators and the Russians have long aspired to provide SA with nuclear power. Whether these shiny things come with authoritarianism, communism, and a lack of respect for the rule of law and human rights remains to be seen. Already the abstentions of SA on votes concerning the war in Ukraine have led to tensions with our long-established major trading partners.
This is not to say that reform of the UN is not overdue, it still mimics power relations of 1945 and has not found a proper place for Africa and the Muslim world in its structures. Whether BRICS will be helpful in addressing these issues is hard to foretell.
All South Africans should hold their politicians of choice to the promises, values and principles of the Constitution before all else. Whether this can be done from within BRICS as it takes shape and admits new members is questionable.
Opposition politicians may see BRICS membership as a last resort of an ANC in considerable trouble both financially and with its credibility with voters. Their own research will determine whether taking SA out of BRICS should be an election manifesto promise.
The future trajectory of BRICS is difficult to divine at this early stage. The hard-won rights of ordinary citizens in South Africa, so central to peace, progress and prosperity, ought not to suffer or be sacrificed as a consequence of ill-considered continued membership of the BRICS block. The Cold War ought not to be repeated. The fulfilment and enjoyment of human rights ought always to trump hegemony. DM