Lets Talk: Should South Africa join the elitist club, OECD?

Angel Gurria, the secretary general of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), was overly emphatic in extending an invitation towards South Africa to join the Paris based entity.

Speaking in the presence of finance minister Pravin Gordhan during the presentation of OECD’s report on South Africa this week, Gurria said South Africa was already a key partner in OECD. The Paris based think tank, an elitist club if you like, has 34 members made of a mix of developed economies and advanced emerging once.

“South Africa has become increasingly active in the work of OECD,” said Gurria. It is one of the five key partners including Brazil, China, India and Indonesia which have been given special nomination. Off course it is well known that we have said we are open in case South Africa will like to come and start a process of accession. Russia is in the process of negotiating its accession”.

In his response to the report which came immediately after Gurria’s presentation, Gordhan chose not entertain the invitation. It could have been an oversight because Gordhan was speaking off the cuff and was mainly concerned with the substance of the report. But many will read meaning into Gordhan’s silence.

It could be that the South African government has not applied its mind around this long standing invitation. It could be that the government is keeping its cards close to its chest in mulling the matter. But then there is also the possibility that Gordhan did not want to step into the role of Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, the minister of international relations. He would rather live the minefield that is international relations to the best qualified colleague.

It could be that South Africa is just not interested. But the latter would be inconsistent with other South African gestures so far as the country’s hunger goes to accede into the top league of global politics. This hunger can be seen in South Africa’s eager participation within the G20 formation. If OECD can be dismissed as a talk shop, then so should the G20. If the G20 provides a strategic position where South Africa can campaign for its positioning and positions within the global order, so should the OECD. Isn’t BRICS an elitist club?

Time will tell if BRICS will offer more value than these other platforms. Russia’s move to seek OECD membership complicates the matter in suggesting that BRICS and OECD can mix. Or is it a case of Russia not really fitting within BRICS. Who is to say India, Brazil or China won’t join the OECD in their individual capacities. Such is the political character of the BRICS formation. International relations is schizophrenic like that.

There is the issue of South Africa’s positional schizophrenia within the global political order. While entertained by the north because of its relatively advanced economic character, South Africa needs the support of countries in the South, less fortunate countries to be precise, mainly sub Saharan countries to cut out the fat. South Africa needs the backing of the latter countries where it matters most. South Africa is seen to be serving on behalf of the African continent, the sub Saharan region to be crude, in the UN Security council.  As such it cannot be seen to be moving away from the bloc of country’s it purports to serve by wining and dining more with the north. Already there is some discomfort over the BRICS formation where South Africa claims to be representing interests of the African continent. Many observers are characterising South Africa’s participation in BRICS as nothing more than a selfish venture. And so OECD invitation is unlikely to fly or will it? Let’s talk dear reader.


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