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As BRICS Chair, South Africa Vows to 'Advance African Interests' 

FILE - South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during the BRICS Business Council prior to the 11th edition of the BRICS Summit, in Brasilia, on Nov. 13, 2019.
FILE - South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during the BRICS Business Council prior to the 11th edition of the BRICS Summit, in Brasilia, on Nov. 13, 2019.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa says he'll use his chairmanship of the BRICS group of leading emerging economies to focus on advancing African interests. The bloc — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — is seen as an alternative to dominant Western economies.

South Africa has just taken over the BRICS chairmanship from China and will host the group’s annual summit this year — with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa promising more African countries will be invited to attend.

“We want to use this opportunity to advance the interests of our continent, and we will therefore through the BRICS summit be having an outreach process or moment, where we will invite other African countries to come and be part of the BRICS because we do want BRICS in whatever BRICS does to focus on helping to develop our continent," said Ramaphosa.

"Our continent was pillaged and ravaged and exploited by other continents and we therefore want to build the solidarity in BRICS to advance the interests, of course initially of our own country, but also of the continent as a whole.”

Asked what form advocating for Africa might take, Mikatekiso Kubayi, a researcher at the Pretoria-based research organization the Institute for Global Dialogue, told VOA it would likely be focused on helping African countries gain greater access to the global economy.

He said BRICS is all about allowing the “voices of the marginalized to actually be heard” and said Africa wants to better the living standards of its people and create employment.

“The collective strength of the BRICS economy and the technological capability, market size, and other qualities that make BRICS a solid development partner for Africa is what South Africa will look to harness with the BRICS partners. I think that is what the president was referring to,” said Kubayi.

Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, of the South African Institute of International Affairs, said that trade would be a priority and there would be a focus on unlocking the potential of the recently formed African Continental Free Trade Area.

She noted that China, the world’s second-largest economy, is the continent’s single largest trade partner.

She said the summit is also about getting investment from external partners and sparking intra-continental trade.

“South Africa would want to advocate in the discussions on these issues with its other BRICS partners in terms of how we, we use the creation of a continental free trade area, not only to trade more with the external world, but primarily, which is what this initiative is really about, to trade, to create goods in the continent that we can trade within the continent,” she said.

Sidiropoulos said aside from trying to advance the economies of developing countries, BRICS is also about reforming the current multilateral system which “does not necessarily advance the interests of the global South.”

At the last BRICS summit, hosted virtually by Beijing, Ramaphosa took aim at the West, saying that during the COVID-19 pandemic rich nations did not adhere to “the principles of solidarity and cooperation when it comes to equitable access to vaccines.”

As well as an economic force, BRICS — which includes three democracies but also communist China and authoritarian Russia — is increasing a political force that positions itself as an alternative to the U.S.-led liberal world order.

Only Brazil voted against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations last year, while the other members abstained. South Africa, as the continent’s foremost democracy, was widely criticized for taking a neutral stance on the conflict.

And it looks like BRICS might soon expand. Saudi Arabia is reportedly interested in joining the bloc, as are Iran, Algeria and Argentina.