South Africa’s Foreign Policy in The Light of The 15th BRICS Summit

Published on 22nd August 2023

Before the dawn of democracy in 1994, the apartheid South African state was a pariah in the international community, condemned for committing a crime against humanity. The foreign policy of apartheid South Africa was defined by coercion, destabilisation and military aggression.

Since the advent of democracy, South Africa's foreign policy has been based on what our forebears inscribed in the Freedom Charter in 1955, when they declared that:

“South Africa shall be a fully independent state which respects the rights and the sovereignty of all nations; South Africa shall strive to maintain world peace and the settlement of all international disputes by negotiation – not war”.

This foreign policy approach is also a product of the efforts of leaders such as the late Oliver Tambo who mounted a vigorous worldwide campaign to secure global support for our just struggle against apartheid.

This put South Africa on the global map in relation to the interests of its people whilst the world condemned its apartheid rulers.
 
Indeed, our foreign policy is a matter that is vital to our progress as a nation. Through stronger relations with other countries, manifested through investment and trade relations, we can grow our economy, create more opportunities for new businesses and create jobs.

South Africa’s foreign policy aims to promote our National Interest based on the protection and promotion of our national sovereignty and constitutional order.

It is also aimed at improving the well-being, safety and prosperity of our citizens, and the achievement of a better Africa and world.
 
The key pillars of our foreign policy include the promotion of human rights, peace and stability and the strengthening of trade and investment ties with other countries.

The foreign policy stance we have taken since the advent of democracy has positioned South Africa as a reliable and influential partner on our continent and in the world.

This has enabled our country to have friendly and valuable relations with countries around the world at political, diplomatic, trade, investment, sporting, social and many other levels.

It is these principles that guide our participation in BRICS.

Together, the members of BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – make up a quarter of the global economy, they account for a fifth of global trade and are home to more than 40 per cent of the world’s population.

BRICS as a formation plays an important role in the world due to its economic power, market potential, political influence and development cooperation.

Yet the value of BRICS extends beyond its sheer size. BRICS countries can collectively shape global dynamics, and acting together, have the potential to drive significant changes in the world economy and international relations.

Together, the BRICS members have used their collective voice to call for a world that is more equitable, balanced and governed by an inclusive system of global governance.

Being a BRICS member has created positive opportunities for South Africa. It has enabled our country to have a strategic relationship with China. Based on the strategic relationship between South Africa and the People’s Republic of China we will be signing several agreements during President Xi’s State visit.

We have steadily strengthened trade and investment ties with other BRICS countries alongside collaboration in areas like development, skills, technology, security and innovation.

South Africa has benefited from the New Development Bank, which was established by the BRICS countries in 2015. Our country has been funded by the bank in several infrastructure projects to the value of R100 billion in sectors such as roads, water, transport and energy.

South Africa has always championed the interests of Africa within BRICS. To further advance the African development agenda, more than 30 Heads of State and Government from across Africa will be attending the summit. We want to build a partnership between BRICS and Africa so that our continent can unlock opportunities for increased trade, investment and infrastructure development.

There are great opportunities for other BRICS countries to participate in the African Continental Free Trade Area by locating production and services in various countries on the African continent, including our own, by partnering with local companies and entrepreneurs.

The 15th BRICS Summit will discuss a number of issues including the important issue of the possible expansion of the membership of BRICS. More than 20 countries have formally applied to join BRICS and several others have expressed an interest in becoming part of the BRICS family. South Africa supports the expansion of the membership of BRICS.

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.

An expanded BRICS will represent a diverse group of nations with different political systems that share a common desire to have a more balanced global order.

In addition to the other African leaders in attendance, we will also be welcoming leaders from several countries of the Global South.
 
These include countries from the Caribbean and South America, from the Middle East, from West Asia, South Asia and South-East Asia.
 
This BRICS Summit is particularly important as it is being held as the world is confronted by fundamental challenges that are bound to determine the course of international events for years to come.

Our world has become increasingly complex and fractured as it is increasingly polarised into competing camps. Multilateralism is being replaced by the actions of different power blocs, all of which we trade with, invest with, and whose technology we use.

It is for this reason that South Africa continues to advocate for an open and rules-based global governance, trade, financial and investment system. It must be a system that does not depend on the exercise of power or unilateralism, but by the advancement of the interests of the peoples of the world.

It is in this rules base system that we seek to advance African prosperity and industrialisation. We seek to change the rules to be fairer but ultimately we want to promote an open system of economic and political relations.

Amid all these challenges, Africa remains at the centre of our foreign policy. We are firmly committed to strengthening the African Union so that it increases its capacity to support the achievement of greater integration on the continent.

We are working towards the full implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area, which is set to eliminate trade barriers, boost intra African trade and achieve prosperity for all of Africa. It will also accelerate manufacturing and industrial capacity on our continent.

The vibrant trading Africa we seek to build depends on Africa being stable and peaceful. For Africa to thrive, we must silence the guns.

We continue to work within the African Union to end several ongoing conflicts on the continent and restore constitutional and democratic government to countries that have recently experienced coups.

South Africa is directly involved in a number of efforts to bring peace to Africa.

We are currently involved in supporting the people of Mozambique and the DRC to ensure that there is peace and stability in their countries.

The administration I have the honour to lead has been devoted to attracting greater trade and investment into South Africa.
 
Every visit we make to countries on our continent and across the world and every visit by heads of state from other countries focuses on strengthening economic ties.

When a foreign leader visits our country for a state visit, they are usually accompanied by a business delegation. We are usually accompanied by South African companies when we travel to other countries. The Business Forums that are held during these visits result in greater trade, investment and business partnerships.
 
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 – AGOA – scheduled for November this year.

As part of our ongoing relationship with the countries of the European Union, we will hold the European Union-South Africa Summit later this year in South Africa to foster our investment and trade relations.

Recent trade statistics indicate the success of all our international links.

Within the first three months of this year, we exported R450 billion worth of goods in the mining, manufacturing, and agricultural sectors. Our biggest exports were to China, followed by the United States, Germany, Japan, and then India.

Exports to other African countries account for around a quarter of the value of all our exports.

Our tourism industry is recovering well from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 4 million tourist arrivals were recorded in the first half of this year, almost twice as many arrivals as in the same period last year.

Companies across the globe have established new or expanded ventures in our country in sectors as diverse as energy, mining, vehicle production, the creative sector, manufacturing and many others.
 
For every rand we attract, jobs are created and sustained. Our country is committed to a policy of non-alignment.

We have resisted pressure to align ourselves with any one of the global powers or with influential blocs of nations.

During the ‘Cold War’, the stability and sovereignty of many African countries was undermined because of their alignment with the major powers.

This experience has convinced us of the need to seek strategic partnerships with other countries rather than be dominated by any other country.

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.

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.

Our decision not to align with any one of the global powers does not mean that we are neutral on matters of principle and national interest.

Our non-aligned position exists alongside our active support for the struggles of the oppressed and marginalised in different parts of the world.

We have always believed that the freedom we won – and the international solidarity from which we benefited – imposes a duty on us is to support the struggles of those who continue to experience colonialism and racial oppression.

That is why we will continue to support the struggles of the people of Palestine and Western Sahara.

We are fully committed to the articles of the United Nations Charter, including the principle that all members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means.

Most recently, we participated in the African initiative to seek peace in the Ukraine-Russia conflict.

Through this African Peace Initiative our country continues to be involved in processes to ensure that children who were removed from their homes in Ukraine are returned to their families and that prisoners of war are exchanged.

We continue to be involved in the talks regarding the reopening of the Black Sea to facilitate the flow of grain. We firmly believe that dialogue, mediation and diplomacy is the only viable path to end the current conflict and achieve a durable peace.
 
We support the principle of respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states and peoples.

In the midst of the grave challenges facing humanity, we are determined that a reformed and representative United Nations must be at the centre of global affairs.

Our support for the United Nations exists alongside our firm belief that this premier multilateral institution needs genuine reform to make it more democratic, representative and efficient.
 
The United Nations Security Council must be transformed into a more inclusive, more effective body that is able to ensure peace and security. 

We are pleased that the UN Secretary General Mr Antonio Guterres will attend the BRICS Summit at our invitation.

South Africa, as a member of the community of nations, will continue to play a constructive role in world affairs.

In 2025, South Africa will assume the presidency of the G20 group of nations. This will be the first time that G20 meetings will be hosted in Africa. The G20 Summit in 2025 will be an opportunity for South Africa to take a lead on critical challenges facing the global community.

South Africa’s approach to foreign relations is to seek increased collaboration, to secure greater trade opportunities and increased investment, and to work closely with partners across the globe to entrench peace and democracy.

As we continue to define our place in the world, as we advance the needs of our people, we will continue to mobilise all our moral, political and economic strength on the side of peace and development for all of humanity.

We will continue our efforts to give effect to the call of the Freedom Charter that “There shall be peace and friendship”.

As the week begins tomorrow, the streets of our country will be hubs of activity as visitors from various countries will be our guests.
 
Let us welcome them and give them the warmth and hospitality that we are known for.

A number of them may choose to stay for a few days beyond the summit to visit the various beautiful parts of our country.
 
I call on all of us to show them the very best of South African Ubuntu.

By President Cyril Ramaphosa

President of the Republic of South Africa


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