[in] focus

The strategic imperative of SA’s 2018 Brics presidency

PhilaniMthembu large

The year 2018 will be one of South Africa’s busiest on the diplomatic calendar since democratisation in 1994. While it offers many possibilities and opportunities for newly sworn in President Cyril Ramaphosa and his administration, it will also test the state’s strategic thinking when it comes to utilising its international partnerships to achieve domestic and regional priorities.

While South Africa maintains a large diplomatic presence in the world, question marks persist on whether the country’s foreign policy brings about tangible benefits for the broader society. This question is especially pertinent in tough economic and political times. South Africa finds itself chairing the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) group of countries, the Southern African Development Community, the Indian Ocean Rim Association and has recently put through its bid for a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council in 2019-2020.

These multiple responsibilities place an obligation on the foreign policy community to craft a coherent and consistent strategy in line with the country’s domestic and regional priorities. While the Department of International Relations and Cooperation remains the central focal point for South Africa’s international relations, sub-national spheres of government such as cities and provinces have become increasingly important foreign policy actors.

The task of the South African state will thus be to ensure a coherent, whole-of-government approach underpinned by a clear grand strategy on South Africa’s international relations. The state will thus have to demonstrate an ability to co-ordinate within and outside of government to make use of the available human resources involved in thinking through and implementing South Africa’s foreign policy.

During the recent State of the Nation address debate on February 19, Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor noted that under South Africa’s Brics chairship, the country would prioritise the promotion of value-added trade and intra-Brics investment into productive sectors, while pointing out that under its chairship of the SADC it would prioritise implementing the SADC industralisation strategy and developing an infrastructure roadmap.

Given the focus of the Brics New Development Bank in funding sustainable infrastructure, the country will have to explain to its African partners to what extent the Africa Regional Centre of the Bank now headquartered in Johannesburg would contribute to filling the infrastructure gap in the region.

While some within and outside of South Africa have argued that the country’s Brics membership constitutes a turn towards the East (read China) and a shunning of relations with partners in the North (read EU and the US), Pandor sought to dispel this line of argumentation. She states that "(a)s we work to further strengthen the Brics partnership, we will certainly not neglect other valued and established partnerships such as the one with the European Union, which continues to be an important trading, investment, development co-operation and dialogue partner for South Africa".

Her balancing act is more in line with the empirical reality of South Africa’s international engagements, where more than 70 percent of the country’s foreign direct investment continues to come from countries in the EU. This line of reasoning also takes into consideration the reality the EU remains the number one source of funding for regional economic communities and the African Union. Perhaps this signals a more pragmatic approach that balances the country’s engagement with global reformers in the Brics and established powers in the global North. In this approach, Brics is not romanticised as heralding an overturning of the global system, but instead plays a role in the country’s overall grand strategy and positioning in global politics.

The real pressure thus lies in crafting a pragmatic foreign policy, yet one still defined by a stronger normative underpinning drawing from the country’s domestic values. Whether one is a Brics optimist or a sceptic, and there remains many sceptics within and outside of South Africa, the reality is that South Africa is a member of the Brics grouping, and its 2018 presidency will usher in the beginning of the second decade of the Brics partnership.

The only way to allay the anxieties of sceptics will be to demonstrate a type of diplomacy that sees Brics membership not as an end goal in itself, but as part of a web of international engagements synchronised with delivering on South Africa’s domestic and regional priorities. Those responsible for implementing the country’s foreign policy must use 2018 to inculcate a culture of strategic thinking and engagement on the global stage that brings about tangible benefits to the country’s citizens.


Dr. Philani Mthembu is Executive Director of the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA and Co-founder of the Berlin Forum on Global Politics. His views are his own unless otherwise stated.

The article was first published in the Independent Online (IOL) 27 February 2018


BRICS Strategy: Towards the 2018 Johannesburg Summit

Sanusha Naidu

In six months’ time, South Africa will host the 10th BRICS Summit. This is a significant achievement since the grouping became a formalised inter-state platform.

The timing of the Summit could not come at a better time for Pretoria. The significance in chairing and hosting the Summit represents a strategic moment for the host country to take advantage of its Chairperson in pushing for key institutional mechanisms in terms of global development and strategic governance. It also exemplifies the opportunity for the South African government to identify and pursue a set of objectives aligned to the national political and economic interests that must address the triple helix challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

And it is precisely in this context that South Africa’s BRICS Presidency under Cyril Ramaphosa government needs to be understood.

In the past several weeks as ANC President and, now, as President of the Republic, Cyril Ramaphosa has shown dexterity in what he sees as critical junctures for recalibrating the country’s ailing economy. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Ramaphosa pursed an agenda of rebranding South Africa as an investment destination. He showed that he is a man on a mission to reclaim the country’s State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) as being held hostage to be looted. Instead under his watch he sees the SOEs together with international and domestic investors to be drivers of the economy and assist in rebuilding the country’s socio-economic base so that poor and marginalised are provide with access to their basic human right resources. The message in Davos was loud and clear: SA remains open for business but with policy certainty and stability.

The suave of Ramaphosa in Davos was also about retuning the default setting of our foreign policy gauge. For some time now South Africa has been at odds with its direction and vision. This is not to suggest that the bureaucracy in DIRCO have been sitting on their laurels; they have shown stellar commitment in effecting the country’s foreign policy pillars. But their jobs were made that much harder when it became unclear where and who was implementing the foreign policy objectives. What is needed now is clarity and coherence around our foreign agenda is.

So what will Cyril Rampahosa’s BRICS Strategy be? It will be one that builds on Davos and extends the charm offensive to make BRICS an indelible part of the country’s growth, employment and investment pathway. While President Ramaphosa is seized with recorrecting the domestic landscape, and fairly aware of how he will be judged in delivering on the big promises of growing an economy that creates jobs, the newly elected President of the Republic is also acutely attentive that he has to makes the BRICS work for the country’s national development plan and socioeconomic priorities. This means changing the completion of the trade relations between the country and the other BRICS’ countries, increasing the investment footprint and ensuring that South African investors are equally able to access the BRICS markets.

The stage is set for President Ramaphosa to introduce himself to the BRICS leaders in July and present his vision of a rebalanced non-aligned vision that encompasses more than business as usual approach but a more pragmatic and integrated tactic that ensures greater economic traction between South Africa and the BRICS.

Sanusha Naidu is a Senior Research Fellow the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA.

This article was first published in the Sunday Independent 18 Feb 2018 https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/the-sunday-independent/20180218/282381220020588


FrancisKornegayWhether US President Donald Trump and his administration and supporters appreciate the magnitude of Trump’s anti-Palestinian policies and pronouncements (as Jesus intoned on the cross: ‘they know not what they do…’), Trump’s dubious achievement has been to force a total recasting of the Israel-Palestine logic. It is thus no longer a question of land, but of democracy. And as might apply to that old pre-Trump logic, there is the old saying: ‘You can never go home again,’ ‘home’ being the ‘peace process’ mantra of Camp David, Oslo and the Quartet: the ‘two-state’ delusion a la Padrig O’Malley . International reactions following Trump’s Jerusalem bombshell has shifted discourse definitively in the direction of ‘one-state’ as the only realistically inevitable outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But does that automatically put paid to the two-state scenario? Not necessarily, though it certainly places this outcome far into a long-term future if not ruling it out altogether – not that ‘one-state’ is imminent either. It is the pure sequencing logic of the two/one-state dynamic that requires critical interrogation.

To be sure, the bi-national one-state option is not what Jews and Israelis wedded to an Israel, both democratic and Jewish look forward to given the demographic future of political geography stemming from the eastern Mediterranean to the Jordan Valley. A two-state solution is the only path to a genuinely democratic state that is also Jewish. Yet the ultra-rightwing, pro-settler drift in Israeli politics, augmented by the powerful US Israel Lobby spearheaded by the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and financing from such ultra-right oligarchs as Sheldon Adelson (a major financier in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign as well as an underwriter of rightwing pro-settler politics in Israel) has all but buried the two-state scenario.

The Israeli-Palestinian ‘peace process’ might better be dubbed the Israeli ‘piece process’ as Tel-Aviv, under successive Likud regimes, backed by a bipartisanly captured US Congress relentlessly gobbles up the West Bank. Whether or not such a stealth strategy was the original intent, Israel and its over-zealous backers face a ‘beware what you wish for’ trap as the Piece Process rolls on! Israel-Palestine is de facto one state. As such, Israel’s presumed democratic character has long since eroded into what can now only be candidly described as a minority-ruled settler-dominated, military occupationist state.

Many in the US seemed emotionally traumatized by former President Jimmy Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid when it came out in 2006. Yet 12 years later, we are looking at a repressive regime in Tel-Aviv that has tracked almost to the letter the path of racist minority-settler regimes in Algeria, Kenya and throughout a Southern Africa that also veered increasingly to the repressive ultra-right before ultimately succumbing to majority-rule. Is this now the scenario awaiting Israel? For like apartheid South Africa, Israelis seem hell-bent on turning Israel into a pariah state on the international stage, repudiating the Liberal Zionist Project.

So what might be done? It may well be that the long-term solution – and it will be long-term and bitterly protracted – is one that turns the two-state vs. one-state logic on its head instead of ruling out the two-state option altogether. The emphasis, instead should shift to democratizing the repressive one-state reality; this calls for a new discourse that no longer marginalizes the one-state option, but openly and honestly recognizes it as a plausible though daunting path to Israel-Palestinian peace (as opposed to Israeli ‘piece’!).

As such, the one-state option could be hypothetically linked to an eventual two-state possibility (in theory) in a two-stage process: First, an internationally-backed ‘anti-apartheid’ movement throughout historical Palestine aimed at transforming racist and militaristic minority-settler occupation into a non-sectarian, multi-ethnic democratic state with equal political and civil rights for Arabs and Palestinians residing within and outside Israel, including in the West Bank and Gaza. The Second stage would be optional.

This would involve a bi-national referendum among Israelis and Palestinians on whether-when-how to move toward negotiating two democratic states – or remain a one-state bi-national democracy. In other words, it may well come down to realizing that two-states may only emerge after a one-state transition to democracy in historical Palestine. But ‘two-states’ becomes purely an optional possibility, no longer the centrepiece of a ‘piece process.’

Meanwhile, the bottom-line should dictate that democracy and human rights for Palestinians not be held hostage to what has evolved into nothing more than a morally and politically bankrupt expansionist colonial-settler ‘apartheid’ charade. As it is, the plight of the Palestinians now takes a back seat to the US and Israel prioritizing with Saudi Arabia a dangerous sectarian geopolitical power-struggle against Iran at the expense of the Iran Nuclear Deal. Thus is democracy for the Palestinians and the two-state charade interlinked with wider geopolitical power dynamics in the Middle East.

Francis A. Kornegay, Jr. is the senior research fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA and Global Fellow of The Wilson Centre in Washington is co-editor of Laying the BRICS of a New Global Order (AISA).

The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent IGD/Unisa policy.

BRICS 2018, who are the role players in the South African agenda?

ArinaMuresanThis year is South Africa’s turn to host the BRICS presidency. The statements thus far have focused on synergy and continuity of previous BRICS summit joint statements and declarations, but pivoted upon taking active steps towards a national and international developmental agenda. In addition, South Africa has identified four new key priorities for its presidency in 2018 by establishing a vaccine research platform, a forum centred on gender and women, a working group on peacekeeping, and further linkages between economic partnerships and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Having joined the partnership in 2010, South Africa’s membership has been questioned critically due to a weaker economic position contra the BRIC complement; however, others have lauded South Africa’s ability to punch above its weight. As South Africa undertakes the chairing duties and prepares for the summit, scheduled for 25 – 27 July 2018 in Johannesburg, it is important to explore which stakeholders contribute to the formal discussion on BRICS and the challenges and opportunities they may face in 2018.

The first of three levels contributing to the discussion, Track I diplomacy, consists of the official governmental engagement between the BRICS partners. At national government level, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) liaises with Parliament, the Presidency and various technical departments in making links to achieve their foreign policy. The BRICS partnership holds strategic importance for South Africa’s international relations, as emerging powers are changing the geopolitical landscape and existing power structures. This membership makes a significant contribution to South Africa’s soft power potential and strengthened bilateral and multilateral ties, which have contributed to increased co-operation in trade, finance, development and other sectors. The BRICS’ interest in the rest of Africa also allows alternative forms of finance to reach the continent. While the BRICS have been criticised for focusing their trade on commodities, exporting cheap retail objects to Africa and replicating neo-colonial models of cooperation, the diverse forms of development and peace and security assistance have also presented alternative options of growth and empowerment for the continent. For many South Africans it is still difficult to discern why South Africa is part of this partnership and why it may benefit. Government departments and official agencies will indeed step up their public communications for a period, yet it is important to keep the citizenry informed at all times.

Track II diplomacy includes officially designated or government-affiliated institutions such as the BRICS Think Tanks Council (SABTT) and the BRICS Business Council (SABBC), which were both institutionalised in 2013. The pre and post-summit SABTT discussions will be drawn from a theme of inclusivity, whereby research will be focused on four areas: 1) economic prosperity and inclusive growth; 2) prioritising our productive, creative, and scientific powers; 3) conflict resolution, peace and social justice; and 4) revisiting the global commons by strengthening responsible forms of strategic cooperation and sustainable development. These research areas are central to the South African context; however, communicating academic research to a wider audience that includes government, businesses, civil society and citizens may remain a challenge. Similarly, businesses in the BRICS countries also have an important role to play in strengthening the partnership and facilitating trade and investment links between the governments. At present, there are a number of working groups on the topics of infrastructure, deregulation, agribusiness, financial services, energy and the green economy, skills, manufacturing and aviation; which were created to support businesses to navigate markets and gain a better understanding of the various dynamics in the BRICS countries.

The third track of diplomacy, Track III, includes interaction with civil society organisations and people-to-people engagement, which represents the largest South African stakeholder, the citizens. Civil society organisations were first invited to the 2015 BRICS summit, held in Ufa, Russia. This diplomacy track is still in the processes of moving towards institutionalisation and thus engagements are held on an ad hoc basis. Civil Society allows more citizens to engage on core societal and developmental issues, as well as receive more information regarding BRICS and how individuals may benefit or become involved. The bigger challenge that the South African civil society contingent is experiencing is access to sufficient funding to support their activities in communicating the BRICS agenda, in addition to carrying out their responsibilities. National government departments, such as DIRCO have been quick to support ad hoc meetings; however, more work needs to be covered consistently in order to support the Civil BRICS movement.

Based on the interaction in the various tracks of diplomacy, it is possible to see both a bottom-up and top-down approach to South Africa’s agenda setting. Actors are able to draw clear linkages between national priorities, found in documents similar to the Constitution, the National Development Plan 2030 and various emerging trends, and foreign policy commitments. Although DIRCO has explained that it envisions BRICS having a direct impact on South African domestic priorities, glaring economic and social disparities still exist, which call to question the attentions paid to these partnerships. The upcoming summit is being anticipated as a prestigious event in South Africa’s diplomatic calendar, which may garner national success if a synergised communication strategy includes all stake holders.

Arina Muresan is a researcher at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the IGD or UNISA.

Chinese strategies in cultivating soft power

ArinaMuresanThe promotion of Chinese public diplomacy became more visible with the leadership of Hu Jintao, who held the position of president from 2003 – 2013, and was increased significantly by President Xi Jinping, whose leadership has spanned from 2013 to the present. At the end of the 19th Communist Party of China (CPC) national congress, held in October 2017, Xi announced the close completion of China’s centenary goals that include achieving a moderately prosperous Chinese society and building a modern socialist Chinese republic, as well as contributing to a new international relations approach. With China’s growing influence in the world, China has a conscious desire to tell the good China-story. China’s new style of international relations that was discussed at the 19th CPC congress is part of China’s public diplomacy and national branding strategy. This article puts forth that China’s new approach will not necessarily be vastly different from previous approaches, but rather that its efforts and growing soft power have started to change the perceptions of the international community.

Public diplomacy is the communication of a country’s foreign policy objectives to a foreign elite population, while nation branding is the management of a nation’s reputation and image through the spirit and substance of a nation’s identity. Both of these activities are conscious desires to improve and manage global perceptions, however both are affected by the choices of political leaders, events, and the national and foreign policies of the country. Both of these concepts are linked to the understanding of soft power, the ability to persuade others without resorting to means of force or coercion. Classical Chinese thought and values will continue to inform China’s relationships and engage partners in terms of mutual respect, fairness, justice, and win-win cooperation. This international relations strategy remains largely unaltered but it is anticipated that China’s new approach will be more holistic. Although China’s emphasis on its cultural heritage as the idiomatic root of departure for its national and foreign policy goals may be critiqued for not showing a stronger political imperative, it does not mean that China’s approach has not been successful.

China’s branding strategy is focused on Chinese culture that is disseminated through numerous national and international media platforms, student and other people-to-people exchanges, cultural showcases and exhibitions, a large emphasis on sharing Mandarin through Confucius Centres, as well as building on friendships and economic cooperation. Critiques express that China’s focus on culture prevents it from communicating new images and changing identities. Yet this critique does not necessarily take into account the growing importance of branding initiatives linked to cultures and ways of life, which are becoming more important in how a country is represented. Perceptions of China are starting to improve, and once hardened impressions are beginning to soften through the use of culture, and the Chinese nation brand and related reputation is steadily improving or ranked highly internationally. In addition to China’s changing image, observers have started predicting that China’s rise to geo-political and geo-economic notoriety is an indication of China’s superpower potential. Although China’s response to this credit has been to express that it is not the intention or desire to become the next superpower; China’s geo-strategic positioning, and historical and political relationships position it as a favourable leader in international relations. For example, firstly, China has not acquired its international status through historical colonial relations, which is immensely valued by countries of the global South; secondly, China’s leadership is relatively stable and predictable; and thirdly, China is renowned for its successes in economic and mega-infrastructure development. China’s participation in international trade through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) positions China to market its nation brand at the centre of international trade which could contribute to redefining globalisation. Moreover, China is taking more global responsibility in promoting peace and global development. However, this also creates a challenge to China’s international image, as China’s military presence creates regional ambivalence. Another barrier is the knowledge and ease of doing business with China. While the Chinese market is relatively accessible, Latin American countries have cited issues with labour practices, unfair competition and too many informal barriers in entering the Chinese market. Although this may paint a relatively bleak picture, perceptions of China in Latin America are relatively positive because of the development cooperation coming from China. Noting sources of barriers to China’s soft power justify the importance of continuing to pursue the Chinese brand abroad. Such barriers are similar in African countries, yet the perception of China is more positive because of the impact that China has had on African infrastructure. Particularly, China’s success in cooperating with Africa has portrayed it as a favourable global leader and partner that can bank on the un-bankable and grow from the partnership.

Challenges to China’s image are existing perceptions about a rigid or strict political system, imbalanced trade and economic competition, human rights issues, severe environmental concerns associated with fast industrialisation, and the existing international bias towards a western knowledge system. Although it has been challenging to completely alter existing negative perceptions of China; Chinese public diplomacy and nation branding efforts, as well as China’s engagement within regions, has encouraged positive perceptions of the giant. While criticism may be aimed at China’s strategy of promoting its national culture as a soft power strategy; China’s commitment to telling its own story and changing perceptions may be an illustration of China’s interpretation of soft power and its long term soft power strategy.

Ms Arina Muresan holds a Masters in Political Science from the University of Johannesburg and is a researcher at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the IGD.




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