African Journal of
Political Science and International Relations

  • Abbreviation: Afr. J. Pol. Sci. Int. Relat.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 1996-0832
  • DOI: 10.5897/AJPSIR
  • Start Year: 2007
  • Published Articles: 400

Full Length Research Paper

South Africa’s BRICS membership: A win-win situation?

Stuenkel Oliver    
School of Social Sciences - Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV), Brazil. 
Email: [email protected]

  •  Accepted: 12 September 2013
  •  Published: 31 October 2013


After significant diplomatic efforts, South Africa’s inclusion into the BRICS grouping in 2011 can be regarded as one of South Africa’s principal foreign policy achievements over the past years. It also fundamentally altered the nature of the BRICS group, giving it a more global structure. Yet little is known about why South Africa sought BRICS membership, why it was chosen over larger economies (e.g. Indonesia) or faster-growing countries (e.g. Nigeria), and how this altered South Africa’s insertion into the international system. This article details the deliberations about South Africa’s inclusion into the BRICS and its premiere as a BRICS member at the 3rd BRICS Leaders’ Summit in Sanya in 2011, which symbolized an important step towards the institutionalization of the BRICS grouping. It argues that Brazil’s, China’s and India’s previous interaction with South Africa, for example in the context of the BASIC and IBSA groupings, contributed to generating trust between large emerging powers and South Africa. South Africa was therefore a far more natural choice and involved fewer risks of reducing the group’s capacity to develop joint positions in multilateral fora. While both the BRICS grouping and South Africa significantly benefitted from the inclusion, it also made South Africa’s foreign policy challenges more complex, as it increasingly has to balance its emerging power commitments with its role as representative of Africa’s poorer nations and that of regional leader.


Key words: South Africa, emerging powers, BRICS, IBSA, BASIC, Sanya.