BRICS: Stronger Partnerships for a Brighter Future – An Interview with South African Ambassador to China Dolana Msimang


China Today (CT): How does South Africa regard and evaluate the BRICS mechanism?


Dolana Msimang: South Africa regards BRICS as a catalytic impetus for its core foreign policy priorities, such as the promotion of the African Union’s agenda, promoting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, advocating global governance reforms, and embodying South-South Cooperation and solidarity in a spirit of mutually beneficial collaboration. Also, from a Global South perspective, BRICS is one of the foremost global mechanisms to be born in the post-WWII/Bretton Woods’ period and pertinently addresses the needs of the Global South.



Since the formation of BRICS, its institutional development has illustrated the potential of the amplified voice of these countries to address pertinent issues in the global discourse and add value to this discourse, notably from the perspective of developing countries. BRICS is the realization of the potential of countries desiring a more democratic and participatory global order.


In essence, BRICS provides an alternative voice in international economic and political situations whilst strengthening the global order and upholding the principle of multilateralism and the centrality of the United Nations. To date, the formation has accomplished many of its tasks, notably the creation of its first financial institutions, the New Development Bank (NDB) and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA), as well as contributing to the resolution of global political and economic challenges. Considering the context of BRICS and what it has achieved, we can say it has been a resounding success. 


CT: How has South Africa benefited from this mechanism since joining?


Dolana Msimang: Through its participation in BRICS, South Africa has been afforded the opportunity to collaborate with strong, like-minded international partners and drive its agenda to transform the structure or system of international relations. This transformation agenda also corresponds to the African Union’s own agenda and its repositioning in the world economy as one of the world’s two fastest growing regions, together with Asia.


South Africa has worked with partners to affirm and achieve domestic, regional and global developmental objectives, particularly in reference to the goals of our National Development Plan, our continent’s Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We are in the unique position, along with India and Brazil, of being able to engage on issues of global governance reform (including the reform of the UN) with two permanent members of the UN Security Council.


Ever since joining BRICS, we have aligned our efforts in BRICS with those of the African continent, which has witnessed BRICS support for African developmental aspirations. BRICS has expressed support for Africa’s own vision as embodied in Agenda 2063 and related continental programs, to advance industrialization and infrastructure development on the continent, which will enhance intra-Africa economic cooperation initiatives and integration initiatives. The first regional office of the NDB, the Africa Regional Center, will also have a tangible impact on the industrial development objectives of South Africa, the southern African region, and the continent as a whole, which definitely benefits from South Africa’s participation in BRICS and support from its BRICS partners.


South Africa has historically had strong bilateral ties with fellow BRICS members, and since joining, we have seen a complementary interaction between this multilateral cooperation and the existing bilateral cooperation. Our economic relations have been substantially enhanced, as for example, by investment from the BAIC Group (Beijing Automotive Group Co., Ltd.) in the Coega Industrial Development Zone to build the first new vehicle plant in 40 years, as well as by our cooperation on various joint projects. 


CT: How do you see the New Development Bank?


Dolana Msimang: The institution building agenda of BRICS, which also signals the political commitment of its members, has witnessed the establishment of its first financial institutions, the New Development Bank (NDB) and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA). That these institutions have been established in a decade of cooperation points to our commitment to the impactful purpose of BRICS.


Embassy Activities Day is held by South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation on October 29, 2016. The China Pavilion attracts lots of visitors. Local youngsters display their names written in traditional Chinese calligraphy.


The President of the NDB, Mr. K.V. Kamath, also reflected that infrastructure built today needs to enhance the economic, social, and environmental wellbeing of citizens. All relevant institutions, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, global, regional and national, are required to work together to reach these objectives. The NDB is striving to be an integral part of the solution to some of the key infrastructure development challenges facing its members. The significant impact of infrastructure development on economic growth and the economic wellbeing of the poor have been well documented. The poor now have improved access to economic opportunities, educational and health facilities with better infrastructure availability and connectivity. Responding to the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s challenges, leveraging human capital and technology in all the NDB’s operations will become critical.


The NDB will hence establish complementary and collaborative relationships with all like-minded institutions and has already concluded multiple memoranda of cooperation with such institutions, like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the European Investment Bank (EIB), and the World Bank. All BRICS members are founding members of a new generation of financial institutions like the NDB and the AIIB.


We are also encouraged by the intention of the NDB to enhance intra-BRICS cooperation efforts, as demonstrated by its plan to conclude an agreement between the NDB and the BRICS Business Council in the near future.


South Africa is proud to host the first regional office of the NDB, the African Regional Center (ARC), to be established in Johannesburg. Preparations are currently underway to launch the ARC. The regional office will build on the work of the NDB, directly servicing the African continent, through an initial focus on project preparation and facilitation for its clientele, but will gradually expand its mandate. This office will serve as a catalytic institution to fast-track our continental infrastructure development programs and complement the existing development objectives and policies which have already been endorsed. 


CT: As a BRICS member, as well as a supporter of the Belt and Road Initiative, how does South Africa see the relationship between the BRICS mechanism and this initiative?


Dolana Msimang: The value of BRICS, for all its members, is the creation of an inter-connected, trans-continental cooperation partnership. All the BRICS Declarations, from Sanya to Goa, speak of crafting a more globalized world, where there are equal opportunities and mutual benefit. We are proud that each BRICS member has its own unique goals as well as trans-continental, and regional imperatives and that all these BRICS countries are active in various South-South economic initiatives, as is so remarkably embodied by China’s Belt and Road Initiative. South Africa, in this regard, views the Belt and Road Initiative as a catalyst for furthering global trade and investment, especially in light of the re-emergence of protectionist tendencies. The trans-continental dimension of the Belt and Road Initiative can only broaden the scope of trade and investment in critical sectors of development that bring about sustainable and inclusive growth. The potential of the Belt and Road Initiative is immense, with a combined inward FDI stock of nearly US $6 trillion and outward FDI stock above US $3 trillion. More than 50 agreements have been signed between China and its partners, covering six major international economic corridors. 


The transformative nature of BRICS and the Belt and Road Initiative align with the African Union’s call for the development of the continent through the New Economic Partnership for Africa’s Development and Agenda 2063. Infrastructure development is critical for not only the development of South Africa and Africa, but also the enhancement of global trade as evidenced by President Zuma leading NEPAD’s (the New Partnership for Africa’s Development) Presidential Infrastructure Champion Initiative (PICI).


Regional integration is set to benefit from the Belt and Road Initiative. In 2015 the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) signed a Tripartite Free Trade Agreement bringing together three regional economic committees and 28 African countries under a single market umbrella. This will encourage enduring intra-Africa trade through market integration, infrastructure development and the industrial development of North-South regional corridors – the Dar es Salaam Corridor, the Trans-Kalahari Corridor, and the Nacala Corridor – to further enhance connectivity and competitiveness in Africa. 


CT: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed a “BRICS Plus” mechanism to enlarge the BRICS circle of friends. What is your take on this?


Dolana Msimang: The proposed idea of a “BRICS Plus” mechanism is essential to the growth of BRICS. In our understanding, “BRICS Plus” is a continuation of the outreach mechanism first introduced at the Durban Summit in 2013. The starting point of BRICS’ engagement with regional organizations and non-BRICS countries was to realize the prescripts of the Sanya Declaration:


 “…We are open to increasing engagement and cooperation with non-BRICS countries, in particular emerging and developing countries, and relevant international and regional organizations.”


South Africa warmly welcomes the progression of the outreach mechanism to galvanize not only the energies of BRICS members, but our partners around the world, especially those of the Global South and Emerging Markets and Developing Countries (EMDCs). Interaction with regional organizations, such as the African Union, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), brought dynamism to the BRICS Outreach mechanism, and as such, we look forward to strengthening our cooperation with like-minded state actors to build truly democratic and participatory trans-continental engagement through such dialogues. This initiative affords us a unique opportunity to exchange views with other global leaders on issues of common interest. 


CT: What are South Africa’s expectations for the upcoming ninth BRICS Summit in Xiamen?


Dolana Msimang: President Zuma has confirmed his attendance at the ninth BRICS Summit in Xiamen on September 3 to 5, 2017, and South Africa has, throughout the year, expressed and demonstrated its support for China, the chair of BRICS for 2017, in its attendance and contributions at the various high-level and technical meetings hosted under the auspices of the Chair’s Action Plan.


 The summit is the pinnacle of the event calendar and we know that the chair’s creative energy, which has ensured the success of the various meetings and events already held, is further aimed at laying a solid foundation for the ninth BRICS Summit. China also introduced a new initiative and hosted the first stand-alone meeting of foreign affairs and international relations ministers in June, where minsters deliberated on the plans for this summit.


It is these developments which give credence to the theme selected by China for this year: “BRICS: Stronger Partnership for a Brighter Future.”


We strongly support the core pillars as outlined by the chair. Our intra-BRICS collaboration has indeed grown to strengthen global governance and to further promote global peace and security; to jointly meet the challenges of fostering an open world economy, improving international financial and monetary systems as well as strengthening our cooperation and coordination in multilateral organizations. We also warmly appreciate the continued focus on enhancing our people-to-people exchanges in all sectors, notably through the various cultural exchanges and manifestations that have taken place, to support our cooperation as we endeavor to respond to the aspirations of our people.


South Africa will assume the chairmanship of BRICS from China and host the milestone 10th BRICS Summit and various sectorial events and meetings in 2018. As the incoming chair, we will strive for a seamless transition between our successive chairmanships, for all partners, and build on the work of China and indeed that of all our BRICS partners. We fully intend to continue amplifying the various productive initiatives that were undertaken this year.


In conclusion, South Africa congratulates China for its sterling chairmanship and joins our BRICS partners in celebrating the remarkable achievements of our first golden decade of cooperation. We are convinced that the next decade will be one of even greater achievements.