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SA’s new GNU navigates multiple headwinds in the dynamic global order

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President Cyril Ramaphosa and First Lady, Tshepo Motsepe, at the Union Buildings for his inauguration. Ramaphosa enters his second term under the new collaborative Government of National Unity (GNU), which includes parties such as the DA, IFP, Patriotic Alliance (PA), GOOD Party and the PAC. – Picture: Itumeleng English / Independent Newspapers

By Ashraf Patel

2024 has been the big bonanza election year highlighting the chaos and discontents with democracy, with a mix of volatile outcomes. Elections in BRICS nations India and South Africa have eroded the power of incumbent ruling parties. The forthcoming UK, French and US election outcomes are scheduled to be fascinating.

South Africa’s new multiparty GNU is now a mixed bag of interests ranging from the mainstream national liberation party to entrenched capitalist-liberalism – to regional traditionalists.

Let’s unpack the global landscape as the GNU navigates an ever-complex global order.

European Elections June 2024 fortify fortress Europe’s (carbon) borders

The European EU’s June 2024 elections can be described as the national populist ‘Trump style tide’ washing ashore. Parties advocating anti-immigration and nationalist models not different from the old National Party of South Africa are coming to power.

The EU’s migration agreement and the controversial climate change border model, (CBAM) is seen as a major barrier to access ‘fortress Europe’, with little prospects for exports for the Global South, especially Africa, thus stifling its own industrialisation prospects.

On the contrary the EU’s imports of coal, oil and gas from Africa has increased exponentially, thus rendering the ‘green just energy transition’ riddled with multiple contradictions. Meanwhile major soccer stars Thuram, Mbappe et al, have made public pronouncements on the right-wing shift, amid social media backlashes in Europe’s fractured ‘free speech’ public sphere.

BRICS Plus an ‘all weather’ economic development bloc

South Africa’s new GNU government’s foreign policy and development co-operation would see ‘continuity with nuanced changes’. The BRICS bloc offers access to development finance, green technologies and green finance and energy resources and technology ranging from oil, gas, nuclear and solar-hydro power.

The New Development Bank will increase its portfolio, and the BRICS bloc will seek to salvage the WTO, and so on. The de-dollarisation trend is set to accelerate as the trend in BRICS Plus with core OPEC nations beginning to trade oil-commodities in bilateral BRICS currencies amplifies, further deepening the global multilateral and finance diversification shift.

South Africa and Indian elections have seen a broader mix and representation of parties in their parliaments, and will see a continuation within the BRICS grouping, as the multilateral world order needs saving.

China – the engine room of global manufacturing, trade and investment

For any developing – and developed nation – China remains the anchor trading partner. China’s sheer size and manufacturing capacity, supply chains, high tech, as well as leadership in new frontier technologies – 5G, Electric Vehicles, Green tech, space tech makes it the ‘anchor trading technology state’ in the world.

Analysts Max Zengleing’s and Francois Chimilis’ new paper on Chinas trade strategy observes:

“After decades of reform and opening, China’s rapidly expanding economic heft, massive industrial capacities, and trade footprint enable its leadership to pursue global ambitions. Measured in purchasing power parity, China’s economy has already eclipsed that of the US since 2017. However, measured by industrial value-add including manufacturing, mining, and utilities, China surpassed the US in 2011 and has continued to outpace the US industrial power ever since. In 2023, China accounted for US$5.9 trillion in global trade, or 20% of the world total, and US$5.5 trillion in foreign direct investment, about 10% of global investment stock. Additionally, Beijing’s bilateral official lending now surpasses the combined lending of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, a notable increase from its minimal presence two decades ago.”

China also remains the anchor global manufacturing hub of the world, providing significant infrastructure and trade finance beyond BRICS. With 500 million Chinese now firmly in the middle class, it is a mega market for exporters everywhere.

Even EU core states Germany, France and the UK are vying for the lucrative Chinese market. China and BRICS countries are thus in prime position to re-shape global norms in trade and new finance standards and systems.

South Africa’s agricultural and mineral exports flow – and imports benefit from new affordable autos, green tech, as its giant e commerce platforms and trade grow exponentially. South Africa’s largest company Naspers company would today be bankrupt without its investment in China’s Tencent tech giant.

South Africa, the G20 and the African Agenda in 2025

Hosting large scale Global events will be an opportunity for South Africa to show leadership. South Africa’s hosting of the G21 in 2025 should ideally follow from Brazil and President Lulas leadership on the Global Development agenda.

Given the G20’s founding mandate in 2009 was addressing the Global finance crisis of 2008, South Africa needs to align with African interests and take Africa on board by addressing the dire African debt crisis, as super high interest rate repayments are eating into social budgets making the UN SDGs largely unattainable.

President Lula has shown significant leadership in its G20 agenda in 2024, boldly addressing an inclusive multilateral, gender inclusion, and the Alliance Against Global Hunger as a lynch-pin of Brazil’s G21 presidency. Will South Africa show the necessary leadership and substantively take the interests of Africa forward at the G21 in 2025?

Southern Africa is our regional home and with numerous issues such as migration and climate emergencies in Lesotho, Swaziland, Zim, and ‘resource curse’ conflicts in Mozambique, DRC would need a more robust Afrocentric model of peace engagement and support.

US elections, a probable Trump Presidency and erosion of multilateralism

The US elections in November 2024 is set to be a rollercoaster and a potential Trump presidency is set to continue its path of American Nationalism. Signature trade programmes such as the US Africa AGOA would probably be diluted, and African issues may take a back seat. National Industrial policies such as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) favouring US companies, and a general US withdrawal from the WTO would be a strong possibility, as well as downgrading from UN bodies such as UN COP, UNESCO etc may see a disengaging US in global affairs.

To be sure Trump is not an anti-globalist per se, but a domestic mercantilist at home and a neoliberal in terms of supporting US capital and their multinational corporations to scour the globe, extracting profits and value from the global trade system for US benefit.

Hence a Trump presidency is set to engage in bombastic trade wars, favour tariffs and developing their own industries and protecting their own jobs (i.e. MAGA), as well as implement tough anti-immigrant policies and border controls.

The Gaza Genocide and end of liberal human rights internationalist order

With the formation of the UN 1948 and the UN Declaration of Human Rights UNDHRC, the Liberal internationalism underpinned by human rights as an instrument in world affairs were a core feature. The Gaza Genocide 2023-24, and South Africa’s case at the ICJ at the Hague and support from the Global South is a turning point.

The iron clad support of Israel by the US, mainstream Europe, UK et al for Israel has generally gone against the ‘global tide of humanity and history’ over several months in the midst of Genocide. The human rights centric foundation of the West’s liberal order – from censorship on US campuses and media to Europe’s controlled public sphere has been sacrificed at the altar, buried in the ashes of Gaza.

Is a New World possible, one rooted in genuine respect for the UN Charter and Sustainable Development Goals SDGs? And how will South Africa engage this brave and chaotic world order?

* Ashraf Patel is a senior research associate at the Institute for Global Dialogue

** The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of The African