NONGOVERNMENTAL organisations and members of civil society critical of developments between emerging economies will hold their own summits alongside this month’s long-awaited Brics summit in Durban, as they are not convinced membership of the economic grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa will benefit the working class in South Africa or in other Brics nations.
Apart from being emerging economies, the Brics nations share common challenges such as infrastructure backlogs and what South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Co-operation calls the "triple challenges" of poverty, inequality and unemployment.
Organisations including the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN’s) School for Development Studies said at a debate in Johannesburg on Thursday night that they would hold their own events during the first Brics summit to be held in Africa.
Deputy International Relations and Co-operation Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim said the Brics grouping and the proposed Brics development bank could play a role in reforming global governance and addressing deadlocks such as the North Korean missile veto.
"Though Brics might not agree on reforms in all areas, it is an important platform for South Africa and other nations to voice their views on global governance. Failure to reform the United Nations Security Council will erode confidence in the world’s multilateral systems," Mr Ebrahim said.
Fatima Shabodien, director at anti-poverty agency ActionAid in South Africa, said her organisation hoped the Brics grouping would lead to infrastructure developments that would benefit the working-class majorities in Brics countries. ActionAid is active in at least four of the five Brics nations.
"Often decisions of a small group of people in one part of the world can affect the lives of people in another part of the world. The development challenges in these countries are so complex they need nations to work together to find a new path of global governance. The world we want is not possible in the current prevailing governance structures" Ms Shabodien said.
She said that while infrastructure was important, even infrastructure in South Africa was "cold comfort for the poor people who could not access it".
The UKZN School of Development Studies’ Prof Patrick Bond said there was little chance of South Africa’s membership of Brics serving to meet South Africa’s goals for global governance reform.
"Why should South Africa expect this reform when two of the Brics nations oppose a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council for South Africa? There is also a sense of resentment towards the Development Bank of Southern Africa because the Southern African Development Community doesn’t have any power over it and the region needs its own bank," Prof Bond said.
He said the UKZN School of Development Studies would hold a "counter summit" and an "occupy Brics" protest.
Prof Bond also criticised decisions South African leaders have made, apparently in light of bilateral relations with some Brics nations, including denying Nobel laureate the Dalai Lama a visa to visit South African Nobel recipient Desmond Tutu.
Mr Ebrahim said the Brics countries’ foreign policy was guided by national interests and states would make decisions according to what met those interests.
"I don’t think the majority of South Africa cares much for the Dalai Lama coming to the country…. South Africa is better off in Brics than outside it and we have to make difficult decisions to serve the national interest," Mr Ebrahim said.
South Africa’s Brics ambassador, Anil Sooklal, said pessimism over South Africa’s role in Brics was not needed, especially from South Africans.
"Europeans and the West seem to have all the answers and every time we as the developing world do something we are put down. It seems the sexy thing to do these days is to bash Brics and we do not need this kind of pessimism," Mr Sooklal said.
Cosatu communications manager Norman Mampane said Cosatu would hold its own "below the Brics" summit in Durban.
The chief director of the Institute for Economic Research on Innovation at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), Rasigan Maharajh, said engagements between Brics nations at a platform such as the summit needed to include civil society and not be reserved for political leaders and business.