Iran and Saudi Arabia’s admission creates a BRICS where South Africa does not belong

Issued by Emma Louise Powell MP – DA Shadow Minister of International Relations and Cooperation
24 Aug 2023 in News

Please find attached a soundbite by Emma Louise Powell MP.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) notes the admission of Iran and Saudi Arabia into BRICS with concern. While only three of BRICS’s five member states can currently be considered free democracies, namely South Africa, India, and Brazil, the addition of two new member states run by authoritarian regimes with concerning totalitarian tendencies may tip the scales in favour of an illiberal, oppressive, and autocratic approach to foreign relations and trade.

This is a world in which South Africa, as a liberal constitutional democracy, should have absolutely no place.

To date, the ANC-led government has been unable to shed any light on the evaluation criteria that has guided our Country’s support for new members. The jarring misalignment between South Africa’s cherished constitutional values and professed support for BRICS membership by countries with questionable human rights records, signals a troubling deviation from the principles that have to date guided our nation.

President Ramaphosa’s reference to building “a shared vision for a better world” via BRICS, marks a dangerous shift away from South Africa’s longstanding commitment to leveraging its global influence to promote constitutional values such as human rights, democracy, tolerance, justice, and freedom.

It is unclear what common vision South Africa could possibly share with nations that fundamentally oppose the democratic values we hold sacred.

The treatment of women in both Iran and Saudi Arabia, for example, represents an affront to South Africa’s steadfast commitment to human rights and gender equality. These countries have incurred global condemnation for their disregard for women’s most basic freedoms – manifested in women’s exclusion from public life and lack of legal rights.

In addition, the Saudi government’s disdain for media freedom and political tolerance was exposed when journalist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered at their consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

The fact that Iran continues to provide military aid to Russia raises significant questions around the motives behind its admission to BRICS, suggesting a strong influence of Russian interests. By acquiescing to Russia’s interests and embracing authoritarian regimes, the ANC government risks sullying South Africa’s reputation on the world’s stage and compromising our nation’s democratic legacy.

Furthermore, by acceding to a decision that seemingly only benefits the interests of one member state alone, the question is then raised as to whether BRICS is truly a multilateral vehicle for global development, or a hobby horse for a band of international outliers.

As the ANC government embraces BRICS expansion, the DA firmly emphasizes that economic cooperation between nations can be achieved via bilateral means and is not reliant on abounding political or cultural associations.

The ANC’s ideological nostalgia of the apartheid years cannot inform the decisions currently being taken in South Africa’s present political reality. South Africa’s true allies lie in nations which share our constitutional values and principles, not those who would seek to destroy them.

Given the absence of a single BRICS trade agreement, it is doubtful that South Africa stands to economically benefit from this alliance. Conversely, South Africa’s alignment within an expanding BRICS may come to jeopardise existing relationships with our biggest trading partners in the West. In recent years, roughly 77% of foreign direct investment into South Africa came from three main Western markets.

Given that the ANC is funded by Russian oligarchs, it then becomes clear that South Africa continues to prop up and give BRICS credibility not because it is in our interests as a nation, but because it is in the interests of the ruling party.

Furthermore, the DA remains concerned that proposed cooperation amongst BRICS members on matters relating to intelligence, cyber-security and military combat readiness may pose a domestic threat to our democratic ideals. We have seen the havoc that Russian intelligence and cyberwarfare can wreak on democracies around the world, and freedom-loving South Africans would be wise to ask their government and the ANC why they are leading our democratic state into the realm of autocracy and dictatorship.

While the DA believes in the benefit of trade and development that may stem from BRICS inclusion, we do not believe that BRICS is the sole vehicle by which the South African state can engage in trade and cooperation with the bloc’s individual member states.

In the absence of solid trade agreements and tangible results from our BRICS membership, and with the inclusion of new members with which we share no values or principles, there is seemingly little benefit to the South African state in BRICS other than political payoff for the ANC.

This is a dangerous way for our country to conduct its foreign policy, and a worrying development for our country’s founding principles of freedom, human rights, democracy, and equality.