U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening. Photo by: Foreign and Commonwealth Office / CC BY-ND

The U.K. Department for International Development has decided to end its bilateral assistance to South Africa by 2015, raising concerns among several nongovernmental organizations. Some, though, see it as an opportunity for the last remaining BRICS nation receiving U.K. aid to stand on its own two feet.

While proud of DfID’s work in the country, South Africa can now ”fund its own development,” U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening said Tuesday as she announced the decision in front of business leaders and African ministers attending an international conference in London.

British assistance to South Africa stands at 19 million pounds ($22.5 million) a year. DfID has pledged to finish active projects in the country. But by 2015, the United Kingdom’s role will solely focus on technical assistance as well as skills and knowledge sharing.

South Africa currently is the only remaining country that is part of the so-called BRICS nations in the Department for International Development’s list of focus countries, which will soon go down to 25. Last year, the agency announced the end of its bilateral aid to India by 2015. DfID also dropped aid to Russia and China in 2011.

Displeased South Africa

The South African government expressed dismay over the decision, noting it was not informed officially and that no “proper consultations” took place.

“This unilateral announcement no doubt will affect how our bilateral relations going forward will be conducted,” Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, said in a statement.

Pretoria hopes to “clear up this matter” at a bilateral forum between the two countries set sometime this year, added Monyela.

Mixed reaction among NGOs

For some aid groups, the decision is likely to impact health care and poverty reduction efforts in the country. For instance, more than 5 million people are living with HIV in South Africa, the highest number in the world, according to a 2011 report cited by the World Health Organization.

U.K. aid is “still a lifeline for poor people” in South Africa, Oxfam’s Emma Seery said.

ActionAid’s Melanie Ward, meanwhile, expressed concern over what appears to be a “trend” in general U.K. policy.

“This is the wrong decision, at the wrong time,” she said. “It seems to imply a more general U.K. policy of withdrawing aid from middle-income countries abruptly and without the progressive phasing that would help communities adjust to new realities.”

Other groups worry about the implications this decision may have on domestic NGOs, a number of which are already struggling with limited resources in the country. Academic, nongovernmental and business associations share 29 percent of the U.K. aid agency’s budget for South Africa.

SANGONeT, a network of South African NGOs, meanwhile, views the U.K. aid agency’s move as a way for South Africa to end its aid dependence. 

“Countries like South Africa should learn to make a difference with the little funds they have, and stop relying on the West to further their own development agendas,” SANGONeT’s Butjwana Seokoma said Tuesday.

Read more development aid news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive top international development headlines from the world’s leading donors, news sources and opinion leaders — emailed to you FREE every business day.

About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.