This article was originally drafted by the South Africa Node of the Millennium Project for the newsletter “Southern Africa Horizon Scan” as part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Searchlight Process. For more Searchlight content on futurechallenges.org, please click here.
The controversy surrounding South Africa’s recent R2.4bn (±US$296m) loan to Swaziland has highlighted the country’s rather opaque and underestimated development assistance initiatives. By April next year, after many delays, SA will launch its own development assistance agency. The South African Development Partnership Agency (SADPA) will be styled along the lines of the American agency USAid, and is intended to establish South Africa as an ‘aid donor’ or rather a development partner. The agency will be based in the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), and will focus on initiating, facilitating, coordinating, monitoring and evaluating development cooperation, leaving DIRCO to deal with the political aspects.
However, Lyndsey Duff, a researcher in development diplomacy at the Institute for Global Dialogue in Pretoria, raises some concerns. South Africa may need to focus more on its engagement and opening up discussion on cooperation and assistance matters until SADPA is launched so as to ‘prepare’ the public for the implications of its endeavors. A number of substantive issues also remain surrounding SADPA’s potential modus operandi.
Firstly, DIRCO has emphasized that SADPA will largely service the African continent, in line with the long-stated SA foreign policy goal of promoting an ‘African Agenda’. Many African states already view South Africa’s activities on the continent with great suspicion due to its regional hegemony. Openly stating that South Africa’s intentions are not entirely altruistic will do it no favors in trying to bolster relations with other African states. These relationships are vital to achieving foreign policy goals.
Secondly, as an established recipient of donor aid itself, South Africa will need to consider carefully how to fund SADPA. Although DIRCO is hoping for private donations, the bill will largely be footed by the taxpayer. Government often reiterates how South Africa’s foreign policy is premised upon national policy – it is an extension of what government intends to do domestically. In that case, SADPA faces the serious challenge of not being taken seriously in the development assistance realm. DIRCO will need to be vigilant about communicating to the general public the advantages of a strategic foreign policy the likes of which SADPA will espouse, especially in light of local service-delivery challenges. Criticism might mirror that currently found in the UK, where London is accused of prioritizing funds for overseas development when to many, domestic issues ought to take precedence.
Thirdly, government must ensure that SADPA has sufficient capacity to meet its various goals on the continent. South Africa is all too familiar with the damaging effects of restricted capacity, and it must do all in its power to see that this does not diminish its efficacy. Not only will failed development assistance initiatives spark criticism at home, but South Africa’s international neighbors will question its competency at providing and distributing assistance.