UK South Africans applaud Brit

UK South Africans applaud Britain’s decision to cut aid to SA

Contrary to one commentator’s belief that British MP Justine Greening’s role in the decision to cut aid to SA would alienate the South Africans in her constituency, it looks set to cement her good reputation among many UK-based South Africans, if their reaction to the news is anything to go by

UK South Africans applaud Brit

The UK government’s announcement last week that it would cease foreign aid to South Africa worth £19 million as early as 2015 has been greeted by criticism from several UK charities — yet praise from many South Africans.

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.

International Development Secretary Justine Greening (also MP for Putney, Roehampton and Southfields; home to a large number of South Africans) announced last week that she had agreed on this course of action with her South African counterparts.

However, criticism arose immediately from Pretoria that the timeline of ending foreign aid had not been properly communicated. Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation said that official diplomatic channels were not properly consulted to reach an agreement. However the UK maintains that the decision was preceded by months of negotiations.

Contrary to one commentator’s belief that Greening’s role in this decision would alienate the South Africans in her constituency, it looks set to cement her good reputation among many UK-based South Africans, if their reaction to the news is anything to go by.

Considering the frequent reports of corruption, perhaps it’s not surprising that many of our readers, instead of mourning the loss of foreign aid to their homeland, reacted with characteristic cynicism as to how that aid money has been spent.

Gavin Almeida responded via our Facebook page, “It’s not like [the money] even reaches the people it was meant for anyway,” while Linda Chiles agreed: “Only the corrupt get it!”

George Hauptfleisch added, “Makes’em fat and shiny.”

“If Zuma can spend £20 million on his home, SA does not need aid,” said Paul Chambers, while Avril Phillips asked, “Why is it that the government feels justified at taking foreign aid? According to SA’s government, we have a thriving economy!”

Another reader wrote, “RSA is too busy getting into bed with China in trade agreements yet expect the UK to keep filling their pockets with aid money.”

However, Warren Greig disagreed. “The aid wasn’t going to Zuma and co. Oxfam and other charities were doing some good work with that money. Should we really punish the poor to make a political point? Cameron and the Tories have just broken another election promise with cutting aid, and besides now they’re talking about giving the money to the British military, which is not exactly a charity working in the service of the poor.”

But Jillian Alcott challenged Greig’s view. “A spokesperson for NGOs in SA the money hardly ever gets to where it matters. They get dribs and drabs of the funding at irregular intervals. Oxfam does not get funded through this money anyway. At least the military is there for your protection, which is your government’s first priority. If our officials did not steal more than R1 billion in 2010/11 it would not be necessary for the UK to ‘assist’ us. Why pay money to a government that is corrupt to the core? Charity begins at home.”

Greig countered, “If it’s not reaching charities etc then more work should be done to tackle corruption and get the money to the right sources. Simply cutting the money off doesn’t really address this issue.  I just find it cynical that there’s finger-pointing on both sides, while the money is siphoned into the military and God knows where else.”

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.

By Sertan Sanderson and Heather Walker