South Africa announced on Friday it has been formally invited to join the Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) group of key emerging nations, bolstering its image as the economic gateway to Africa.

Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said China, in its capacity as rotating chairperson of the BRIC formation, invited South Africa to join the group, whose current members will account for 61 percent of global growth in 2014, according to the International Monetary Fund.

China’s state news agency Xinhua confirmed the invitation, saying "BRIC has accepted South Africa as a full member of the group", which will in future be called BRICS.

Chinese President Hu Jintao also issued a letter of invitation to South African President Jacob Zuma to attend the third BRICS leaders’ summit, to be held in China in the first quarter of 2011", Minister Nkoana-Mashabane added.

BRIC, a term coined by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill in 2001 to describe the growing influence of the four largest emerging economies, accounted for about half of global economic growth between 2000 and 2008. According to Goldman Sachs, the combined economies of the BRIC members could eventually eclipse the combined economies of the current richest countries of the world.

Besides the economic front, the BRIC countries - soon to be dubbed BRICS - are rapidly becoming a counterweight to U.S. hegemony as actors in multilateral diplomacy and agents of a rising multipolar world order.