As the five heads of states of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) meet on African soil in Durban next week for the developing nations’ summit, civil society in Durban will be holding its own summit of a very different nature.

BRICS governments often use radical rhetoric alluding to anti-imperialism, and in this year’s summit, they will undoubtedly impress upon the rest of Africa that their corporations offer better investments in infrastructure, mining, energy, and agriculture than traditional Northern multinationals. In the brics-from-below! civil summit, hosted by groundWork (Friends of the Earth South Africa) [1], the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) [2] and the University of KwaZulu Natal Centre for Civil Society (UKZN CCS) [3], civil society will play two major critical roles: firstly, acting as a watchdog of the claims, processes and outcomes of the BRICS summit, and secondly, providing a platform for civil society organisations in these countries to share experiences and create networks.

The prospect that South Africa “presents a gateway for investment on the continent” [4] could leave Africa overwhelmed by BRICS corporations and is indicative that the trajectory of the 21st century ‘scramble for Africa’ has already begun. Africa’s ‘Resource Curse’ will attract billions of dollars worth of BRICS infrastructure developments. In this light, the BRICS Summit in Durban is set to be the next successor to the initial carving up of Africa, which took place in 1885 in Berlin.

Africa’s survival, however, is largely at the mercy of climate change. Climate change is driven by increased greenhouse gas emissions, which is fuelled by South Africa and other BRICS countries that continue to rely on and supply their Northern counterparts with dirty, non-renewable sources of energy, or the products created from dirty energy. The United Nations COP17 hosted in Durban in 2011 resulted in a weak, non-binding deal, which neglects the historic responsibility of Northern countries and promotes a rising average temperature for the continent at 1.5 degrees higher than the rest of the world.

The major focus of this year’s summit is the new BRICS Bank, despite the growing world financial crisis clearly not boding well for this. Austerity scenarios continue to play themselves out in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland, as a result of IMF bail-out of banks – which in 2012 included $75 billion of BRICS countries’ capital. The proposed BRICS Bank will exacerbate the chaos in our and our neighbour’s social, economic and environmental spheres already caused in part by multilateral financing. Existing development finance institutions in BRICS countries – like South Africa’s Development Bank of Southern Africa – offer mainly negative lessons.

Along with these issues, people in BRICS countries face numerous serious socio-economic, political and civil rights violations. Inequality, lack of adequate infrastructure, increased levels of violence, state repression, and the exploitation of resources to the detriment of people’s livelihoods and their ability to live in a healthy relationship with their environments, are all symptoms of development not oriented towards people but rather government and corporate profit.

The brics-from-below! civil society summit will take place from 22 to 27 March at different venues around Durban and is open to all journalists to participate.

To follow the brics-from-below! summit on social media:


Megan Lewis, Media and Information Campaigner at groundWork (Friends of the Earth, South Africa): +27 (0) 83 450 5541 or

Desmond D’Sa, Coordinator at South Durban Community Environmental Alliance: +27 (0) 83 982 6939 or

Patrick Bond, Director at University of KwaZulu Natal Centre for Civil Society: +27 (0) 83 425 1401 or


[1] groundWork is an environmental justice organisation based in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal, working with community people from around South Africa, and increasingly Southern Africa. groundWork assists civil society on issues relating to environmental justice and human rights, focusing particularly on Air Quality, Climate and Energy Justice, Waste and Environmental Health. groundWork is the South African member of Friends of the Earth International

[2] The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) is an alliance of 16 organizations concerned with environmental justice and human rights, particularly relating to industrial pollution in the south Durban Basin, an area which is home to more than 285 000 people living in settled communities

[3] The Centre for Civil Society (CCS) was established at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in July 2001, with the mission of promoting the study of South African civil society as a legitimate, flourishing area of scholarly activity. The CCS’s objective is to advance socio-economic and environmental justice by developing critical knowledge about, for and in dialogue with civil society through teaching, research and publishing

[4] Department of International Relations and Cooperation, Deputy Minister, Marius Fransman. 2012. Roundtable Discussion held at the University of Stellenbosch on the theme “South Africa: A strong African Brick in BRICS” on 21 November 2012