BRICS Summit: South Africa's president says his country will not take sides in a 'fractured' world

BRICS Summit: South Africa's president says his country will not take sides in a 'fractured' world
Russian President Vladimir Putin, subject to an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant over the kidnapping of Ukrainian children, is attending the latest BRICS summit virtually / Wikimedia
By Thulani Mpofu August 22, 2023

Ahead of the BRICS summit, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa pledged that his government would continue to pursue a policy of non-alignment in a world that he described as increasingly complex, fractured and polarised into competing camps.

In an address to the nation two days ahead of hosting the summit of BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) that starts on Tuesday (August 22), Ramaphosa said his country had resisted pressure to align with any one of the global powers or with influential blocs of nations.

“While some of our detractors prefer overt support for their political and ideological choices, we will not be drawn into a contest between global powers,” he said.

“Instead, our country strives to work with all countries for global peace and development. It is for this reason that South Africa is a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, a forum of 120 countries that are not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc.”

The BRICS group of nations are meeting in South Africa through August 24 after months of uncertainty over whether Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes in Ukraine, would participate. 

South Africa, a member of the ICC, was under pressure to arrest Putin if he set foot in the country, but he recently agreed with the host nation to participate virtually.

Ramaphosa said that more than 30 African heads of state and government were attending the summit, with at least 20 countries from across the globe having formally applied to join BRICS, which makes up a quarter of the global economy and accounts for a fifth of global trade and more than 40% of the world’s population. 

“South Africa supports the expansion of the membership of BRICS,” he said. “The value of BRICS extends beyond the interests of its current members. For its efforts to be more effective, BRICS needs to build partnerships with other countries that share its aspirations and perspectives.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping will combine his attendance of the summit with a state visit to the African nation during which a number of bilateral agreements are due to be signed. In the first quarter of 2023, Ramaphosa said, his country exported goods worth $23.7bn, the bulk of which were sold to China, followed by the US, Germany, Japan and India.

Amid the uncertainty over Putin’s participation at the BRICS summit, a group of four US legislators wrote a letter, on June 9, 2023, to Secretary of State, Antony Blinken asking him to consider sanctioning South Africa over its close ties with Russia.  The quartet also asked Blinken to remove South Africa from a list of African nations that enjoy preferential access to US markets under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).  They, too, suggested that South Africa be stripped of the right to host an AGOA summit in November 2023. 

After a flurry of diplomatic exchanges between the two countries, it appears Pretoria has retained the hosting rights.  

“To further strengthen economic ties between African countries and the United States, South Africa is inviting more than 30 African trade ministers and senior US Administration and Congressional representatives to the next forum of the African Growth and Opportunity Act scheduled for November this year,” he said.

In 2022, South Africa exported goods worth $14bn to the US, of which 21% worth $3.2bn entered that country under AGOA, according to a South African paper, Daily Maverick on May 17, 2023.