The UK government has announced that it would cease foreign aid to South Africa worth £19 million as early as 2015. The abrupt withdrawal has come under heavy criticism from several UK charities, including ActionAid and Oxfam, as well as the South African government itself.
Despite the ongoing battle against poverty and HIV/AIDS in South Africa, UK ministers have decided to focus on strengthening trade with South Africa to help with matters of economic development rather than continuing aid payments.
UK International Development Secretary Justine Greening (also MP for Putney, Roehampton and Southfields) announced last week that she had agreed on this course of action with her South African counterparts. However, criticism arose from Pretoria immediately that the timeline of ending foreign aid to South Africa had not been properly communicated. Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Co-operation said that official diplomatic channels were not properly consulted to reach an agreement on the deal. The UK maintained its position that the decision was preceded by months of negotiations.
Britain’s shadow international development secretary Ivan Lewis (Labour) criticised the move, saying that Greening should account for the discrepancies between South Africa’s version of events and the UK position. He added that the move was designed to “please the public” in the run-up to local elections in the UK; foreign aid had largely been spared from the widespread spending cuts under the Conservative/LibDem coalition government. Foreign aid payments to African countries remain a sensitive issue in the UK following recent revelations that millions of taxpayers’ money was used in the past to finance dictatorships on the Dark Continent.
In the past, the UK had paid as much as £40 million annually in foreign aid money to South Africa, but the amount was gradually adjusted as South Africa’s economy improved, especially in industries such as telecommunications and tourism. However, South Africa is far from being recession-proof. The decision to cut any remaining foreign aid is expected to be discussed later this year at the SA/UK bilateral forum.
However, until a clear resolution in this matter is reached, it is likely that bilateral relations between the two countries may sour.