News / Africa

BRICS Raises South Africa's Profile as Economic Gateway

A woman walks past the International Convention Center where the 5th BRICS Summit will be held, in Durban, South Africa, Mar. 25, 2013.
A woman walks past the International Convention Center where the 5th BRICS Summit will be held, in Durban, South Africa, Mar. 25, 2013.
Anita Powell
South Africa’s position as a gateway to Africa is a highlight of this year’s BRICS summit. Members of the BRICS bloc - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - top officials from the African Union and leaders of Africa’s regional economic communities are attending this week’s summit in Durban.

South Africa is the newest and financially weakest member of the BRICS bloc. But its membership, South African officials say, affords nations in the group a coveted gateway into Africa - and access to its economic resources, inexpensive labor and growing consumer base.
Population and GDP of BRICS Nations
Population and GDP of BRICS Nations

To that end, South African President Jacob Zuma said he had invited, in all, 15 African heads of state to the meeting. Among them are the new leaders of East African powerhouse Ethiopia and West Africa's economic and diplomatic hub Senegal - though both of those leaders will be representing regional organizations.

But do the BRICS nations need South Africa's introduction to the rest of Africa? Tom Wheeler of the South African Institute of International Affairs said maybe.

“In some ways yes and in many ways no," Wheeler  said. "I think that China doesn’t come to South Africa to get to Africa, nor does India. In some ways, the financial institutions here are useful to move into Africa but then again those countries probably don’t need it. There are probably other countries that will use this route more regularly.”

Wheeler notes, China-Africa trade hit $20 billion last year. President Xi Jinping made his first visit to the continent ahead of the summit, visiting the Republic of Congo and Tanzania.

But South African officials argue they are attempting to reach out to the rest of the continent through a proposed BRICS development bank, which may be able to extend loans that the major lending institutions will not. The bank’s focus will be infrastructure - a key issue in Africa, where many resource-rich nations are held back by their lack of basic structures.

Caroline Bracht of the University of Toronto-based BRICS Research Group, said the African attendees have good reason to develop friendly relations with BRICS.  

"Their growth has been variable over the last quarter or two quarters or so, [but] it is still much faster and much more rapid than the Western countries. ... So these countries, at the moment, by engaging with the BRICS, have access to some finances," Bracht said.

"The question is now, who is leading the agenda. And I'm hopeful of this situation in the sense that the Africa-BRICS dialogue will hopefully facilitate an African agenda, versus the BRICS bilateral, or pluri-lateral agenda," she added.

Whether South Africa's membership benefits the rest of Africa as touted will become more clear when the BRICS summit opens Tuesday.

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Comment Sorting
by: Kendrick Sooknarine from: Trinidad and Tobago
March 26, 2013 4:39 AM
No task should be evaded because it is difficult. This is a most worthy effort. There will be problems,but that is the nature of things. This has been long awaited.
The world today is about markets and these countries have the biggest markets of the world.
I hope that it will also mean a rise in global living conditions.

by: Shuman M from: Memphis, TN
March 25, 2013 3:41 PM
India is the poorest of them all...and here is how

country population GDP GDP - I
Russia 141,000,000 1,860,000,000,000 $13,191
Brazil 197,000,000 2,480,000,000,000 $12,589
South Africa 50,600,000 408,000,000,000 $8,063
China 1,340,000,000 7,300,000,000,000 $5,448
India 1,240,000,000 1,850,000,000,000 $1,492

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
March 25, 2013 1:27 PM
BRICS is a name for a group of countries that want to control their countries by themselves. In other words, BRICS stands for truly independent countries wanting to do their own things without outside interference, especially from the USA. But can they stand? Will longerthroatism allow the overtly corrupt heads of governments to keep their avarice in check? The desire to have foreign accounts for themselves and foreign properties and schools for their households constitute a snag the donor countries of the G8 group have used to peg corrupt officials to the funds that they ensure their countries do not work except they receive aid from USA. BRICS will break the stranglehold of the G8 and G20 on economies struggling to rise if they remove corruption. But how can they when they are already stringed in the slush funds and will be exposed for one crime or another if they dare try to regain control for their countries. Let's watch and see if they will survive. That's if China is going to sustain quality leadership of this group. Otherwise there seems no other country inside of the group that is able to stand the financial power of US diplomacy and administration of the slush fund. At the best, China may end up with a wider scope of trading partners, but the group does not have a chance given their attachment to US economic and socio-political policies.

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