NO SOONER had Pretoria (Tshwane) shown the world that it cared very little for the UN Charter codifying the major principles of international relations, from sovereign equality of States to the prohibition of the use of force in international relations, it found itself facing a legal problem presented by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The issue of Putin’s attendance at a BRICS summit the upcoming 15th BRICS Summit from August 22 to 24, in Durban following the ICC issuing an arrest warrant, comes after the SANDF conducted military exercises with Russia and China on the anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine.
It was an embarrassing show of support for the aggressor, presenting a major predicament. On the one hand foreign minister Naledi Pandor claims South Africa is neutral on the issue of the Ukraine war, supposedly practising a ‘continental tradition of non-alignment’, on the other, the country has aligned itself with an emerging power-bloc that includes Russia.
The embattled Ramaphosa government may just have to decide which side its bread is buttered. It cannot simply pretend the world is not watching, or that ANC civil rights history translates into eternal immunity from world opinion. The fading Mandela Miracle which birthed a Rainbow Nation has rapidly turned into a tragic story of hubris and self-defeating political intrigue.
While many within the ruling party, see the BRICS Development Bank as an all-important counter to ‘Bretton Woods’ financial institutions, the reality is far from the rhetoric — most of the country’s economic activity involves the West, with trade far outweighing business within the BRICS bloc. Though China ranks ahead of the USA $11.69B vs $10.73B, the addition of the EU, UK and Japan make such a comparison seem absurd.
The BRICS bank, a hallmark of the political project which begun under Zuma, is by no means independent, and the price of gaining an international banking conceit, one which translates into an essentially unproven claim, a counter-weight to the Washington Consensus, (Putin’s much vaunted “multipolarity”), may yet turn out to be a unsustainable, too expensive and complicated in the long run.
Much like the G20, BRICS (a product of the Left) is merely an artificial acronym invented by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill , to denote the five biggest emerging economies. It is currently neither a political nor an economic union, and stands awkwardly on the world stage, unlike the more important African Union and SADC, both also teetering on the brink of collapse, the product of ANC neglect.
South Africa’s economy has been unable to post meaningful growth figures over the past five years, despite the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA). The welcome trade surpluses (a factor under Ramaphosa’s drive for R1 trillion investment) have swung into a deficit of R23.05 billion — a significant decline from January 2022’s R4.64 billion trade balance surplus — amidst signs that multinationals like BP may be quietly withdrawing from the country, sensing sanctions on the horizon?
Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor is thus effectively steering the nation down a rather bleak path, (in step with Iranian Ayatollahs) one that could lead to outright sanctions, trade embargoes and equivalent loss of influence and prestige.
Twenty-six African countries voted in favor of a resolution rejecting Moscow’s controversial 2022 referenda in four Ukrainian regions, with South Africa increasingly isolated and outmanoeuvred on the continent.
Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana is already battling grey-listing by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) for falling short of international standards for the combating of money laundering and other serious financial crimes, and Pandor appears to be working hard to essentially sabotage his efforts. It is no coincidence the FATF action also occurred on the anniversary of the Ukraine invasion.
More worrying is the manner in which the country, (more so under its previous President Zuma), appears to be importing organised crime — adopting Putin’s kleptocratic system of state capture and oligarchy to some extant, a system benefiting economic elites at the expense of ordinary citizens.
The findings of the Zondo Commission into corruption and state capture have yet to translate into meaningful prosecution and jail-time for the culprits.
South Africa may yet return to the period in which it was viewed as the polecat of the world.