NOT SINCE THE SOCCER World Cup has a single event commanded as much media attention as the 5th Brics summit conference in Durban, South Africa's seaside holiday capital. It is Brics' first conference on African soil and celebrates South Africa's becoming the economic bloc's fifth member with Brazil, Russia, India and China and for adding the "s" to the organisation's acronym. Security for the visiting Brics heads of state and 5,000 delegates also approached World Cup dimensions with 3,000 policemen and soldiers imposing a tight blanket of security on the city.
"South Africa has a reputation for hosting events of such a magnitude," says national police commissioner, General Riah Phiyega. "We are not newcomers to this game."
Not everything was quite as smooth as the security arrangements, as South Africa host-debuted on the Brics big annual event. An absence of signposts had arriving delegates searching the city for the venue in pouring tropical rain, programmes ran out before all delegates had received their copy, inevitably the IT gremlins ran amok, temporary staff seemed unfamiliar with accreditation processes and the translation equipment appeared to have a mind of its own.
"These massive conferences have their glitches," said one administrator, "luckily they're quite easily sorted out and the event ran smoothly in the main."
South Africa, as the minnow in a pond of big fish, used the occasion to learn, to build stouter bridges, to tackle troublesome trade issues--especially those involving dumping and imbalance--and to muster support for a Brics development bank "to lessen dependence on the World Bank and the IMF".
Probably top of President Jacob Zuma's "to do" list at the Brics jamboree was to explore ways to a more equitable balance of trade between South Africa and other Brics members, especially China. China is South Africa's biggest trading partner and at $20bn in the last six years, a significant investor in the economy.
According to Nomaxabiso Majokweni, chief executive of Business Unity SA, exports last year from South Africa to China were close to $11bn while imports from China totalled $14bn. To a lesser extent, South Africa's trade with the other Brics members were also skewed unfavourably for South Africa.
"If South Africa is to be an able competitor it needs to improve its basket of exports to the Brics countries," she asserts.
And that is at the heart of...