BRICS and Civil Society 2018: Social Justice versus the Diplomacy Game

The annual BRICS Summit at the Sandton Convention Centre attracted much hype and generally affirming media coverage. Part of the reason for relentless positivity towards the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) alliance is press coverage in the country’s leading newspaper chain arranged by Iqbal Survé.  As head of the Independent newspapers as well as the BRICS Business Council, his own picture appears regularly on his front pages, pronouncing on the enormous value of BRICS to South Africa.

Debate amongst academics and civil society has been intense, especially on whether engagement in official processes amounts to a legitimation of BRICS rulers. For critics, the governance credentials of China, India, Russia and Brazil are appalling, along with widespread corporate corruption, exploitative economic trade and investment strategies, and the world’s most severe pollution, including greenhouse gases.

Disappointingly, most of the pro-BRICS analysis is lukewarm at best and at worst sycophantic. Last week, Rev Lawrence Ndlovu’s Daily Maverick opinion piece refers to the “special friendship between BRICS nations”, leaving human rights violations papered over with the throwaway remark, “the sovereignty of each country should never be seen to be compromised.” This parrots South African BRICS Sherpa Anil Sooklal’s diplomatic patter over the last few months at various BRICS events held in the lead up to the Summit.

The theme for the BRICS Summit 2018, ‘BRICS in Africa: Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the 4th Industrial Revolution,’ is ostensibly grounded upon the BRICS alliance’s advertised central priorities: ‘the creation of an inclusive society and global partnerships that bring prosperity to all humankind’. This time, the presence of trade-warrior Donald Trump looming in the background has provided artificial credibility.

Overall, though, BRICS coverage continues to be characterised by a lack of critical reflection. For example, the 4thIndustrial Revolution’s emphasis

Are Brics civil society talkshops just ticking boxes and not making real ‘jam’?

As the heat increases around the 2018 summit of the Brazil, India, Russia, China and South Africa (Brics) grouping, to be held in Johannesburg in July, debate from the Brics Think Tank and from the left is coming to the boil over the value of the bloc’s participatory processes.

Patrick Bond’s critique of the Brics Think Tank and Academic Forum meetings, held at the end of May in the run-up to the summit, is that limited critical commentary on Brics’s state of corruption “reflect[s] servility to local power” (Mail & Guardian Online, May 30).

If Brics summit rhetoric is to be taken at face value, the grouping poses an alternative, counter-hegemonic South-South bloc in the global political economy. The radical critique of Brics argues that this is simply rhetorical window-dressing that masks further socioeconomic exploitation.

As quoted by Radio Islam’s website on May 31, Brics think-tank leader Ari Sitas argues that Bond’s critique amounts to an argument by contamination: “You know so-and-so smells bad, therefore this must stink.”

The view held by Sitas and most academics and activists who took part in the forum and the Brics civil society participation process (known as Civil Brics) is that progressive critique and policy strategies will help to effect transformation at summit level.

This is the diplomatic line followed by South Africa’s Brics “sherpa”, Anil Sooklal, who said at a recent seminar at the University of the Western Cape (UWC): “We have no choice; we are part of Brics.”

The sticking point between radicals outside these spaces and progressive civil society forces inside them relates to knowledge control and the co-option of academics and activists. Or are we alibis for the “bad smells” emanating from Brics’s poor governance and exploitative socioeconomic practices, making resistance from outside (what we might term “tree-shaking”) …

State of BRICS Youth Struggle: About Us, But Without Us

The leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa will meet in Johannesburg from 25-27 July for the 10th BRICS Summit. Prior to the Summit a number of other BRICS dialogues are taking place, including the Business Council, Academic Forum, Civil BRICS and BRICS Youth. BRICS Youth was set up in 2013 to put youth voices on the BRICS agenda and to promote and popularise BRICS amongst young people ages 15-34 in each country.

At the time, in March 2013, President Jacob Zuma promised that the Durban BRICS Summit would “contribute immensely to satisfying the employment and development needs of our young population” and that youth employment would be “central to our engagements and discussions with the grouping.” But the fight against South African youth unemployment has been lost.

We reflect here on whether, five years later, SA’s hosting of the BRICS Youth participatory processes show any indication of improving prospects for youth in BRICS countries and South African youth in particular.

Raymond Matlala plays a leading role in BRICS Youth SA through his NGO “SA Youth International Diplomacy,” the G20 Youth Forum and the Euro-BRICS Youth Platform and he led a recent process formulating BRICS Youth recommendations for a civil society meeting called “pre-Civil BRICS.”

In a May 2018 interview, he admitted that the immediate concern facing BRICS Youth is its lack of sufficient representivity when taking positions on behalf of millions of young people. This means that a disconnect may exist between the positions and strategies undertaken by BRICS Youth and those taken by more representative or legitimate youth movements.

Representivity is entrusted to the National Youth Development Agency, a controversial statutory body set up by parliament in 2008. Each BRICS state has its own equivalent government youth agency that selects delegates. There is no formal elective …

State of BRICS Social Struggles: Power Plays in Civil Society and Academia

As the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa bloc comes to Johannesburg from July 25-27, local debate about the ideologies, strategies and tactics of outsiders is getting hotter. A teach-in on July 23-24 and protest on July 26 highlight ‘brics from below’ perspectives.

If Summit rhetoric is to be taken at face value, BRICS pose an alternative, counter-hegemonic, South-South bloc in the global political economy. However, the radical critique of BRICS argues that this is simply rhetorical window dressing to further socio-economic exploitation.

The pragmatic view held by most academics and activists participating in two official bodies – the BRICS Academic Forum and Civil BRICS – is that insider lobbying by progressives will help effect transformation at Summit level. This is toeing the diplomatic line, as oft intoned by the South African foreign ministry’s BRICS organiser (a self-described ‘Sherpa’), Anil Sooklal, who promises access via transmission of polite ‘policy asks’ into the declaration process. (The Civil BRICS statement is not available online but was included in the new book, BRICS Politricks.)

Academics within the BRICS Think Tank network, as well as those who buy into the idea of BRICS as an incremental balancing force against the post-Cold War unipolar system, emphasise the norm-setting, ideational potential of the BRICS.

The sticking point between radicals outside and civil society forces within these spaces relates mainly to legitimation, particularly when it comes to knowledge control and co-optation of academics and activists. After all, the BRICS have notoriously authoritarian, corrupt ‘governance’ and exploitative socio-economic practices, which extend into their African deal-making and status quo multilateral assimilation.

As a result of the difficulty of winning power within BRICS states, radicals normally assume that resistance from outside – what we might term ‘tree shaking’ – is a more viable way to effect change, especially as it delegitimises …

RESEARCH AND ACTIVISM DURING POLITICAL TURMOIL IN BRAZIL, INDIA AND SOUTH AFRICA, AUTHORITARIANISM IN CHINA AND RUSSIA, AND RENEWED AGGRESSION FROM THE UNITED STATES

Research and activism during political turmoil in Brazil, India and South Africa, authoritarianism in China and Russia, and renewed aggression from the United States.

A workshop at the Alternative Information and Development Centre co-hosted with the UWC African Centre for Citizenship and Democracy, Wits School of Governance
and National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences BRICS Think Tank 147 Rochester St, Observatory, Cape Town

Date: Friday, 9 December 2016

please RSVP (for catering) to eapetersen@uwc.ac.za

9-10:30am
1) Brian Ashley and Lisa Thompson: Welcome
2) Lisa Thompson and Pam Tsolekile: BRICS/brics-from-below in context and in research
3) Patrick Bond: brics-from-below in conflict with BRICS since Durban (2013)

10:30-11am – tea break

11am-1pm
4) Ana Garcia: Brazilian politics and social movements, from Fortaleza (2014) onwards
5) Boris Kagarlitsky: A Russian view of BRICS and social movements after Ufa (2015)
6) Trevor Ngwane and Benny Kuruvilla: The Goa BRICS People’s Forum (2016)

1-2pm – lunch

2-4pm
7) Au Loong Yu: The view from China in preparation for a BRICS People’s Forum (2017)
8) Mercia Andrews: Lessons from the SA-Brazil People’s Forum process
9) Brian Ashley, Sameer Dossani and Lenny Gentle: Geopolitics and social struggles during Trumpism

4-4:30pm
10) Godfrey Netswera, Pam Tsolekile and Patrick Bond: Closure and ways forward

SPEAKERS:
Mercia Andrews
is director of the Trust for Community Outreach and Education in Cape Town
Brian Ashley
is AIDC director
Patrick Bond
is professor of political economy at Wits School of Governance, honorary professor at the UKZN Centre for Civil Society and co-editor of BRICS: An Anti-Capitalist Critique
Sameer Dossani
is ActionAid International’s Global Advocacy coordinator and former director of 50 Years is Enough
Ana Garcia
is professor of international relations at the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, honorary professor at the UKZN Centre for Civil Society and co-editor of …

BRICS and brics-from-below: confront new geopolitics, local and global

Research and activism during political turmoil in Brazil, India and South Africa, authoritarianism in China and Russia, and renewed aggression from the United States.

a workshop at the Alternative Information and Development Centre co-hosted with the UWC African Centre for Citizenship and Democracy, Wits School of Governance
and National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences BRICS Think Tank 147 Rochester St, Observatory, Cape Town

Date: Friday, 9 December 2016

please RSVP (for catering) to eapetersen@uwc.ac.za

9-10:30am
1) Brian Ashley and Lisa Thompson: Welcome
2) Lisa Thompson and Pam Tsolekile: BRICS/brics-from-below in context and in research
3) Patrick Bond: brics-from-below in conflict with BRICS since Durban (2013)

10:30-11am – tea break

11am-1pm
4) Ana Garcia: Brazilian politics and social movements, from Fortaleza (2014) onwards
5) Boris Kagarlitsky: A Russian view of BRICS and social movements after Ufa (2015)
6) Trevor Ngwane and Benny Kuruvilla: The Goa BRICS People’s Forum (2016)

1-2pm – lunch

2-4pm
7) Au Loong Yu: The view from China in preparation for a BRICS People’s Forum (2017)
8) Mercia Andrews: Lessons from the SA-Brazil People’s Forum process
9) Brian Ashley, Sameer Dossani and Lenny Gentle: Geopolitics and social struggles during Trumpism

4-4:30pm
10) Godfrey Netswera, Pam Tsolekile and Patrick Bond: Closure and ways forward

SPEAKERS:
Mercia Andrews
is director of the Trust for Community Outreach and Education in Cape Town
Brian Ashley
is AIDC director
Patrick Bond
is professor of political economy at Wits School of Governance, honorary professor at the UKZN Centre for Civil Society and co-editor of BRICS: An Anti-Capitalist Critique
Sameer Dossani
is ActionAid International’s Global Advocacy coordinator and former director of 50 Years is Enough
Ana Garcia
is professor of international relations at the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, honorary professor at the UKZN Centre for Civil Society and co-editor of …