JOHANNESBURG — South Africa is set to host it first BRICS summit as the newest member of this group of developing economies comprising Brazil, Russia, India and China. As the Durban meeting approaches later this month, South African are wondering what its role as host will bring to the country -- and the continent.
South Africa, the smallest economy in BRICS, joined the group in 2011, expecting it would strengthen the nation’s position globally, and offset the great influence wielded by traditional Western powers.
“Our ties are historic," said South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Masabane, noting that her nation has long had economic and cultural relations to several of the BRICS nations, notably India and China.
Analyst Lyal White, head of the Center for Dynamic Markets at the Gordon Institute of Business Studies, said while South Africa may not technically belong in this elite group, it is the continent’s powerhouse and provides a gateway to African markets.
"It’s an opportunity for South Africa to really punch above its weight in global fora and to really engage with the global agenda at the very highest level and to drive the economic and political future of the developing world," he said.
Johannesburg is a multicultural city and has long been a hub for immigrants from around the world.
Shopkeeper Zubair Ismail gets all of his goods from India and China. But if he had the chance to address the BRICS members, he says he’d make a surprising request.
"Basically the main thing would be to stop imports from China, India or wherever, and try and rebuild our manufacturing locally. Because that would increase our employment and would also give everyone a scope, from manufacturing to wholesaling to retailing locally," he said.
Across town at the city’s oldest Chinese store, business is good. The store has deep ties to the local community and has been going strong for 60 years. Owner King Pon says BRICS is unlikely to change that.
"People are very capitalistic. I don’t really think you need your major BRICS government agreements for people to do business. Where there’s money, people will flock," he said.
Critics say that BRICS is not a new dynamic - just another form of colonialism that allows rich nations to exploit Africa.
Academic Patrick Bond says BRICS will be disastrous for the continent.
"It’s extraction that is so devastating to [the] environment and to people, and what BRICS, what it looks like it’s trying to do, is make that more formal and legitimate, and more fluid, with more finance," he said.
BRICS governments would argue that finance is the key to counter exploitation and they plan to use the summit to unveil their own development bank to benefit the African continent and beyond.