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UK Decision to Stop Aid to South Africa Causes Controversy

The UK caused controversy last week with its decision to cut aid to South Africa from 2015. Charities criticised the move, whilst the South African government claimed they were not properly informed of the decision. The question for many is: Was this the right choice?

Currently the UK gives £19 million in direct aid to South Africa, aiming to help small businesses and decrease the mortality rate among women giving birth. The amount of aid peaked in 2003 at over £40 million, however as South Africa’s economy grows and Britain’s stagnates, many argue that it is time to divert the money elsewhere. Justice Greening, the UK’s International Development Secretary, said when making the announcement that “South Africa…is now the region’s economic powerhouse” going on to state that “I have agreed with my South African counterparts that South Africa is now in a position to fund its own development.” In response, South Africa said that they had not been properly consulted about the move, which is “tantamount to redefining our relationship”.

So why was the decision made, and what does it mean for South Africa itself? Firstly, South Africa’s increasingly strong economic position has caused many to question the need for the country to continue receiving financial help. South Africa is currently a middle income country, and part of the ‘Brics’ group of emerging economies. Other members include China, whose UK aid has already been stopped, and India – whose aid will be cut by 2015. Therefore for many, to cut South Africa from the aid program seems logical, especially at a time when Britain’s own economy is suffering. Last year, South Africa’s economy grew by 2.6% whilst that of the UK grew at only 0.2%. 

However, the gap between rich and poor is ever present and some say that cutting UK aid means stopping vital support for those who need it. £19 million is a relatively small amount compared to the £10.5 billion Britain spends on aid internationally, and considering the symbolic and physical difference it can make, should it be cut? The government thinks so, whilst charities disagree. Oxfam argued that “Whilst South Africa should be in a position to fund its own development, there remains widespread poverty and inequality, so UK aid is still a lifeline for poor people”. With HIV a significant problem, and over half of South Africa’s children living in poverty according to UNICEF, the suggestion from critics of the move is that it is difficult to claim that the country is so well developed as to have no need for UK aid any more.

Strategically, South Africa is an important trading partner for the UK. As a major exporter of gold, diamonds and uranium, a damaged relationship with the country could decrease the UK’s influence in these markets. Mark Doyle, the BBC’s International Development Correspondent, pointed out that “ties between former colonial powers and former colonies are fraught with emotional sensitivities. Both sides have to get diplomatic messages just right – or tempers can fray.” Considering South Africa’s emphatically displeased reaction to the decision, this looks increasingly likely.

With many in Britain suffering increasing financial difficulties, it has been suggested that perhaps the money spent abroad should be diverted back home. However the UK foreign aid budget is fixed, meaning that the money must be spent internationally. The cut in aid to South Africa means this help will go elsewhere, to less economically developed countries. Many believe that international aid should be decreased overall, whilst others see it as a crucial form of help for those who need it. HCX asks – was cutting aid to South Africa the right decision, and should international aid be reconsidered?

Image Credits: telegraph.co.uk, guardian.co.uk

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