BRICS partnership is more than government-to-government relations by Amb Anil Sooklal, BRICS Sherpa

DIRCO’s Deputy Director-General responsible for Asia and the Middle East, Ambassador Anil Sooklal, speaks at a high-level seminar on Beijing’s global development strategy, the Belt and Road Initiative, in Pretoria. Picture: Jonisayi Maromo / ANA


Our BRICS partnership has deep roots in the formal government cooperation tracks across all three pillars of cooperation, political and security, financial and economic, as well as social/people-to-people cooperation.The partnership is more than government-to-government relations. It is inclusive women, youth, civil societies, media, ruling parties, parliaments, law societies, cultural organisations, sports federations, arts, theatre, film to name but a few.


Some of the global narratives about BRICS constantly aim to highlight our differences. It speaks of our different histories, cultures, religions, development paths and forms of governance as something negative.However, the uniqueness of BRICS is precisely the diversity and richness which welds us together as a powerful global force. It brings us together to work together in cooperation not only for our own benefit but for the global


In the words of President Nelson Mandela, our differences make the people of BRICS a global rainbow community. A shining light in providing leadership and charting a new era of harmony, peace, cooperation, development for the benefit of all.We live in a very fractured world and therefore new solutions are desperately needed for the challenges confronting humanity today.


We have seen the global pandemic erase almost all the gains we had made towards the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. The world is increasingly divided and the return to Cold War mentalities and the preservation of hegemonic tendencies has further exacerbated the situation, especially for the global South.


The key developmental challenges of poverty, underdevelopment, and inequality are increasing, but are being relegated to the margins by those who have the means to make a difference. Attention and resources are being shifted away from the Sustainable Development Goals, including from the most needy and vulnerable.


We cannot count on those who profess to be the leaders of the global community. BRICS as a powerful voice of the global South must leverage its combined resources, influence, and leadership, in partnership with other like-minded emerging market and developing countries, to provide the global leadership that is lacking in the world today. This is what is expected of BRICS.


This is the motivation for South Africa’s theme as Chair of BRICS in 2023:


BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development, and Inclusive Multilateralism.


Our theme emphasises the value of BRICS as a partnership of leading emerging markets and developing countries generating momentum towards global growth, sustainable development, and inclusion of the global South in the world system.


Governments cannot deliver on this alone. It requires a whole of community, whole of society approach. The importance of social and people-to-people cooperation was visible in the BRICS response to COVID-19. BRICS were at the forefront of a compassionate response to global North and the South.


Our response to climate change and the restructuring of our economies must also be compassionate. Our solutions to one problem should not leave others behind.


As Chair, we will explore how BRICS can lead with solutions for an equitable Just Transition. We can manage the risks associated with climate change while still improving the lives and futures of those people employed under the umbrella of old industries.


An equitable Just Transition will require new ideas and initiatives. BRICS is a platform for sharing and learning. Our cooperation has led to the establishment of the BRICS Academic Forum, BRICS Think Tank Council, Network of BRICS Universities and the virtual BRICS Vaccine Research and Development Centre.


More than 100 multilateral BRICS research projects have been funded under the BRICS Framework Programme. Our research partnership is based on joint ownership and shared responsibility, the real and open sharing of experience, expertise and resources; and a determination for BRICS research to advance the global good.


Our differences as well as our unique identity and strength become the anchor of our ever-expanding cooperation benefiting from our richness and diversity. BRICS brings people together to forge new friendships, deepen relations and mutual understanding between BRICS peoples in the spirit of openness, inclusiveness, diversity, solidarity and mutual respect.


Under our Chairship we will continue the wide range of BRICS people-to-people platforms including the Youth Summit, Young Diplomats Forum, Parliamentary Forum, Civil BRICS as well as the Media Forum.


We will focus on the Action Plan for the Implementation of the Culture Agreement, promoting the development of BRICS cultural digitisation, and deepening cooperation in areas such as cultural arts, cultural heritage, and cultural industry.


We look forward to changing narratives in the BRICS Media Forum, empowering our media with BRICS International Journalism Training Program and the Joint Photography Exhibition.


President Ramaphosa has emphasised that the BRICS is centred on people-to-people contact. The pandemic weakened these links when all travel was banned. A return to people-to-people contact will help our travel and tourism sectors recover. This year we will further strengthen the BRICS Alliance for Green Tourism, to forge a more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive tourism sector, and promote the high-quality development of BRICS culture and tourism cooperation.


We encourage sports ministries and federations of BRICS to strengthen communication and maintain coordination in international sports affairs. We look forward to hosting the BRICS Games in Durban later in the year.


We will be welcoming BRICS Leaders to South Africa for the 15th BRICS Summit in August 2023. Our Chairship is not isolated. It builds on the excellent work of the Chairs before us. We are seized with the important discussions on the guiding principles, standards, criteria, and procedures for BRICS membership expansion.


For South Africa, the immense interest in joining BRICS is recognition that we remain true to our foundational values of creating a more inclusive and equitable global community, strengthening multilateralism and being a catalyst for global economic recovery and growth, and a stable and peaceful world.


As a collective we will work together both to address challenges and explore opportunities for mutual benefit for all. We will work together to place BRICS at the forefront of shaping a new people-centred global society.


This is an address delivered on Thursday, March 30 at the joint opening ceremony by Professor Anil Sooklal, Ambassador-at-Large for Asia and BRICS at the BRICS Seminar on Governance and BRICS Forum on People-to-People and Cultural Exchanges.