The BRICS 2018 Johannesburg Declaration: Small Wins For Civil Society

On 27 July 2018 leaders of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) grouping released the outcomes of their intense summit negotiations, known as the Johannesburg Declaration. In marked departure from previous summits, the document recognises for the first time the progress made by civil society, known as Civil BRICS or Track 3, in strengthening cooperation and interaction among BRICS people, and takes note of the outcomes of civil society meetings. These outcomes were presented in the form of policy recommendations [PDF] submitted to the South African government’s BRICS Sherpa Ambassador Anil Sooklal ahead of the summit. This recognition is illustrative of the focal point that the citizenry and a people-to-people approach is necessary in order for the BRICS multilateral forum to address domestic developmental needs and achieve its global economic reform agenda. Civil society’s inclusion portrays the South African government as a progressive force within the BRICS in promoting the key asks made by civil society. Namely, to formalise Track 3 as an autonomous and self-determining space from 2018, and that this model be carried forward into future BRICS Summits including Brazil in 2019, write AMANDA LUCEY, RISKA KOOPMAN and TAMARA NAIDOO.

True to this year’s theme on “BRICS in Africa: Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the 4th Industrial Revolution” the document has a significant focus on economic integration and the establishment of global value chains facilitated by a technological progress that is shared. The Declaration aims to alleviate fears that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will leave the poorest behind, by acknowledging the need for vocational training, lifelong learning and skills development relevant to a fast changing world. These actions are encapsulated within measures of the G20 Initiative to Promote Quality Apprenticeship and the BRICS Action Plan for Poverty Alleviation and Reduction through Skills.

It was notable that BRICS leaders committed to transitioning to more environmentally friendly sustainable energy systems. The Declaration remarks with satisfaction on the progress made by the New Development Bank (NDB) in providing resources to contribute to the social, economic and environmental prospects of its countries and stated that it would further expand green financing. This should be taken further – civil society recommendations call for financing of small and medium-scale infrastructure projects, to promote transparency and accountability and to ensure greater engagement with civil society, including on environmental and social safeguards. The establishment of the NDB’s Africa Regional Centre has the potential to transform African economies, but to date its track record is worrisome. Whereas other renewable energy projects have been set up in some BRICS countries, such as the Chinese Shanghai Lingang project, engagements in South Africa are more controversial. For example, project funding was awarded to South Africa’s Transnet and Eskom but both have undergone allegations of corruption and mismanagement and neither have the capacity to ensure inclusive nor sustainable economic development. These projects were also awarded without any public consultation. 

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The Declaration had striking absences too. Gender and women’s rights issues were mentioned in reference to the Agenda for BRICS Cooperation on Population Matters 2015-2020 and the establishment of the recently launched “BRICS Gender and Women’s Forum.” However, little is reported on concrete steps for how BRICS will address the gender pay gap, decent work and unpaid labour. Other critical areas for women’s economic empowerment include rights to productive resources – in particular natural resources such as land, water, forests; financial resources such as credit, sustainable livelihoods and social resources such as housing and social security and gender equity legislation were also omitted. On the burning issue of land for South Africans, the Declaration is silent. Cognisant of the contentious issues around land in all BRICS countries, Civil BRICS had recommended that leaders promote inclusive and policies to protect land, roll-back dependency on mining and ensure a human rights perspective to land, amongst others. Focusing on entrepreneurial work and small-scale agriculture would provide BRICS leaders opportunities to ensure inclusive economic growth – rather leaving growth to big businesses and elites. Moreover, while the Declaration self-critically mentions its poor record for monitoring and evaluation, Civil BRICS Forum will host their own process in late 2018.

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In sum, the Johannesburg Declaration must be complimented for acknowledging the needs of the BRICS people but leaders must now ensure decisive commitment to Civil BRICS policy recommendations. The Declaration is already 102 points long but there is scope for working groups to refine the BRICS agenda as they tackle these issues. Simultaneously, civil society must continue to engage in BRICS process and to hold leaders to account.

The 10th BRICS Summit has now come and gone but South Africa still holds the BRICS Chairship until the end of the year. As such, a real contribution by the South Africa government would be to ensure the formalisation of Civil BRICS as an autonomous and self-determining platform and to take action on Civil BRICS policy recommendations. South Africa has a vibrant democracy and should use the opportunity of BRICS to demonstrate its values and ideals.

Riska Koopman is currently completing her Masters Degree in International Relations at the University of Stellenbosch, where she also obtained her Bachelors of Arts and Bachelors of Commerce Honours degrees. Riska was awarded both the DAAD-NRF and BRICS scholarships in 2016. She returned from working in China’s Shaanxi Province, to take up the role of Civil BRICS Project Coordinator at the Economic Justice Network, continuing to work on China-Africa socio-economic and political exchanges.

Amanda works as a consultant for Oxfam South Africa. She specialises in south-south cooperation and peacebuilding. Amanda previously worked at the Institute for Security Studies as a Senior Researcher on Peace Operations and Peacebuilding. She has also worked for the United Nations in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Amanda holds an MPhil in Justice and Transformation from the University of Cape Town.

Tamara Naidoo holds a Masters of Philosophy in Multidisciplinary Human Rights at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. Ms Naidoo’s study interest is South African foreign policy and global economic reform. Currently, she is a Programme Manager for International Relations at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung South Africa.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Daily Vox.

Featured image by the GCIS.