South Africa in the BRICS: Evolving International Engagement and Development

By Zuma, Jacob | Harvard International Review, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

South Africa in the BRICS: Evolving International Engagement and Development


Zuma, Jacob, Harvard International Review


South Africa will celebrate its 20 years of democratic rule next year, following the demise of apartheid in 1994. The ruling African National Congress (ANC), which is also the oldest liberation movement on the continent, celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. As its core statement of principles, the "Freedom Charter" was adopted in Kliptown on June 26, 1955. It declared that "There shall be Peace and Friendship" and projected that South Africa shall be a fully independent state that respects the rights and sovereignty of all nations, strives to maintain world peace and the settlement of all international disputes by negotiation--not war, and calls for peace and friendship amongst all our people secured by upholding the equal rights, opportunities and status of all.

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These statements farther informed South Africa's international relations and foreign policy since 1994, as also expressed in our Constitution. The preamble calls upon us to "build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations." The birth of the South African constitutional democracy also * attests to the international community's resolve to ensure the demise of the apartheid system as well as to support South Africa's subsequent quest to address the inherited socio-economic inequalities of the apartheid era.

In an article in the November/December 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs, President Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected President of the new Republic of South Africa, already foresaw global changes: "As the 1980s drew to a close I could not see much of the world from my prison cell, but I knew it was changing. There was little doubt in my mind that this would have a profound impact on my country, on the southern African region, and the continent of which I am proud to be a citizen. Although this process of global change is far from complete, it is clear that all nations will have to recast their nets if they are to reap any benefit from international affairs in the post-Cold War era."

Contextualization of Key Foreign Policy Tenets

South Africa's membership in the BRICS (an intergovernmental grouping comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) should be viewed in the context of "recasting" South Africa's international relations after decades of isolation during the apartheid era as a pariah state.

Cognizant of the shared historical bonds of solidarity in the fight against oppression and colonialism among like-minded countries, notably from our Continent as well as other regions in the world, the 1955 Bandung Conference laid the seeds of South-South cooperation. The creation of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961 and of the G77 and China in 1964 was underpinned by this partnership and our shared objective for a different global template that is more responsive to the interests of developing countries. Subsequently, various other initiatives were multiplied from this progressive impulse. This is an important history to draw upon, but as the South African government, we are also conscious that history has marched on. The age of globalization urges us to elevate these partnerships to a different level, building on the ties of solidarity and the shared objective to generate mutually beneficial economic relations.

These shared historical ties make it much easier to share lessons about pursuing development paths based on our common understanding of the kind of challenges that we face as developing countries. The outdated "zero-sum game" paradigm framed in adversarial terms is being recast through progressive groupings such as the BRIGS as an opportunity to strengthen collective global responsibility and achieve developmental gains for developing countries, and obviously from our perspective, Africa in particular.

It is therefore clear why key tenets of our foreign policy pertain to advancing the African Union's (AU) agenda as well as strengthening South-South and North-South relations. …

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