As the only African country in BRICS, South Africa is playing a bigger and more meaningful role in the group on behalf of the broader African continent. Recently, Nomaindiya Mfeketo, South African Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation spoke to ChinAfrica reporter Liu Jian in Beijing on her views of how South Africa and other African countries can benefit from BRICS, and how BRICS will help address the problem of youth unemployment and empower women in Africa.
ChinAfrica: How can South Africa play a bigger and more meaningful role in BRICS?
Nomaindiya Mfeketo: We are already playing a meaningful role in BRICS. South Africa is the only African country in BRICS. So whatever we are doing, we are doing for the broader continent. You know we are talking about [more than a] billion people in Africa. And we are already part of what BRICS created as we are a full member since 2011. All our aspirations as a continent and as a country have been included in what BRICS [has achieved] in a short space of time. [For example] you see the development of [the] BRICS New Development Bank, [and] you see the development of the regional bank that is hosted in South Africa. Clearly, this is why we want to be part of BRICS. [We share] the similar values and can pull each other [along] as developing countries. And here [in BRICS] at least there is comfort that when we talk about certain developmental programs, we do have a sort of financially friendly mechanism that allows development, more than going to borrow money that you won’t be able to pay or [which has] huge interest implications.
Africa has a vast number of youth—many of whom are unemployed—so what role can BRICS play in helping to address this social dilemma?
I think each [member] country went into BRICS with the challenges they wanted to deal with in their [own] countries. For us, the question of coming from that particular history [of apartheid], the question of unemployment, poverty and inequality is key. If there is one problem that needs to be solved in our country, it’s that problem [of youth unemployment]. The majority of the age group that we talk about, when we talk about unemployment, is the youth. How [does] BRICS accommodate that? We have agreed to create sectors in BRICS, and the youth sector [is] a very active sector. Last year, they had the BRICS youth forum in Russia, which had very good outcomes, where we talked about industrialization and skills development. As we are speaking now, there are many young stars all over BRICS countries, in India, here in China, Russia, that are learning skills. [The same thing] was happening before with individual partners that we have bilateral relations with, but now with BRICS, that has been strengthened, and the numbers have grown of the skills that are developed from other BRICS countries for South Africa.
How can the five BRICS members collectively deal with the current wave of anti-globalization and protectionism that is becoming more pronounced?
I think that may only be coming sharply to the fore now. [Anti-globalization and protectionism] is not really a new thing and it was there for some time. I think the countries that decided, at some stage, to come together to form BRICS are countries with [the] same values. It is countries that support each other and want to create some kind of an alternative to assist each other, the developing countries, and to share expertise, so that we can all develop, not only particular countries can fully develop.
When meeting with BRICS leaders at the recent G20 Summit in Hangzhou, President Xi Jinping said members should enhance coordination to make emerging-market economies and developing countries play a bigger role in international affairs. From a practical sense how do you see this happening?
I think [it needs] the whole proper coordination of our macro-economic plans as different countries. I think countries will have their own plans. Part of the global community needs that sensitivity that you have [of] communities that are fully developed, but if there are communities that are not developed and you are not necessarily assisting them, they can easily come back and bite you. If there is no solution, there will be poverty. The next thing that will follow is instability in those countries. People run away from their country and come to your country, because of the instability. More importantly, for developing counties like us, it’s really to try and invest in skills development, and to try to invest in having different innovations that will create opportunities for our youth in particular.
With all its members being developing nations, what role does BRICS play in the G20 Summit’s call for a unified global governance of developed and developing nations, in the pursuit of rebooting the world economy?
When you form a relationship with countries, you not only focus on the two countries’ relationship, you also interact between different platforms, whether they are international platforms or local platforms. You share ideas and views on what kind of decisions would build [a strong] economy for everyone, and what kind of decisions must be taken. If we were not in BRICS, we would try to influence one country as an individual country, but it adds more weight if we are part of BRICS [as] we can speak with one voice. Some of our members are in very important bodies internationally, but we have access to those bodies by virtue of being part of BRICS and we can influence some of the decisions. I think that is a plus for us and for being a member of BRICS.
As a woman minister, what are your views on women empowerment? How can the cooperation among BRICS countries help empower women?
It’s more than 60 years that South African women have been involved in women issues, fighting for women empowerment. I think it is South African women themselves who stood up and said that we must be counted. Definitely, we have more women in all government positions, and at times they are even the majority. How do we spread that to other countries? So we have a lot to share when it comes to women’s [issues].
And coming to BRICS, as I said earlier, there is a youth sector that is very active. BRICS women need to be motivated to raise their hands. We will create a woman sector in BRICS. There is so much to share. I am hoping [that] by the time of our chairpersonship we establish a woman sector that will share [expertise] with other BRICS countries, and by doing that, spread to other [non-BRICS] countries. For me that will be one of the priorities of our country.
In different countries through our people-to-people dialogue, we are beginning to do that. But when you talk about BRICS specifically, it’s easier to do that, because we have started the youth sector already. In fact, women in African countries have come together, starting to form organizations, for different purposes, including peace-keeping. I was in Kenya not long ago, where women were saying: "we are tired of taking a back seat. We are the ones who suffer when there is no stability and war in our country, so we raise our hands to be counted."