South Africa was added to the BRICS group of nations as a strategic and political measure by the founding member nations, according to analysts ahead of the group's summit in China on Thursday.

South Africa, with a $285 billion economy, a much smaller population and tepid growth of about 3%, pales in comparison to the four emerging market giants.

But the country, which is making its debut at the summit, has earned a spot politically as the stepping stone to the quickly emerging states of sub-Saharan Africa, which helps expand the geographic reach of the original BRIC states - Brazil Russia, India and China.

"This is a diplomatic achievement for South Africa, not an economic one," said Anne Fruhauf, an analyst for Africa for the Eurasia Group.

COMMODITIES

South Africa and southern Africa also offer the original BRIC states something that they desperately need - commodities to feed their economic engines.

India, Brazil and China have been working hard to increase trade with Africa. Brazil mining giant Vale plans to invest $15-$20 billion within the next five years in Africa and its oil company Petrobras plans to invest $3 billion in Africa through 2013.

STEPPING STONE TO AFRICA

Another advantage South Africa offers for the BRICS comes from its strong links to the economies of the regional group SADC - the Southern African Development Community - which is made of 15 states with a total GDP of $471 billion and a population of 257 million.

It includes fast growing economies such as Angola, one of Africa's biggest oil producers, Botswana, the world's biggest diamond producer, Mozambique, home to some of the world's largest untapped coal reserves and Zambia, the continent's biggest copper producer.

"South Africa's entry has definitely given the BRICS a voice in the African continent," B.R. Deepak, a professor of Chinese Studies at India's Doon University wrote in a note for the South Asia Analysis Group.

SOUTH AFRICA MUST LEAD AFRICA

Francis Kornegay, a senior researcher at the Center for Policy Studies is of the opinon that while South Africa will stand to achieve great opportunities being a part of BRICS, it must also ensure that Africa as well as itself tastes the potential fruits of the engagement.

"The question is how South Africa will leverage itself into being a global player in the group as well as Africa's representative?," Kornegay says.

"South Africa needs to have a focus on getting as much out of BRICS as possible by pushing for regional integration. In leading this move through African bodies such as SADC, it will be good for the BRICS, Africa and South Africa," he said.

with REUTERS