Controversy has erupted over the last few weeks as Britain announced that beginning in 2015, all financial aid to South Africa will end. Over the past years and continuing into the present, Britain has managed a financial aid and development program that endows hundreds of million pounds per year to countries deemed “in need.” South Africa has been included in this fund for many years yet after recently hosting a Brics emerging nations conference (a group comprised of other “coming of age” states such as China, India, and Brazil), the international community has come to realize that this African nation is more stable than previously thought.
In fact, it is a case of Britain finally naming South Africa not “developed” but “developed enough.” It is a compliment but perhaps also a mistake. On the one hand, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal of financial aid signals a new age for South Africa. With apartheid just over twenty years in the past, this most southern African country has risen rapidly. Incomes have increased, infrastructure improves by the month, and social relations between races have all but smoothed out in most areas. What’s more, of any Sub-Saharan African country, South Africa receives the largest number of immigrants per year—a testament to its rapidly evolved image as the most prosperous of the southern African states. South Africa, for all intents and purposes, is on its way to complete development and Britain’s retracted aid is a symbol of a changed relationship.
The UK no longer sees South Africa as a helpless country; it now sees a potential international power, and an up-and-coming trade partner. Yet, one also realizes that this “developed enough” period may be one of the riskiest times for a struggling nation. It stands on the precipice of poverty and success, and with one footfall could slide back into the depths of underdevelopment. In view of this, many have criticized Britain’s decision to pull back on financial aid for being just too early. A few more years could guarantee South African success; too few years could spell regression and merely more aid needed in the future.
In either case, the question remains: how will South Africa stand the test? While it is certainly becoming a developed nation, one cannot spend time in the country without witnessing widespread cyclical poverty. One cannot research the country and side-step the fact that still the majority of South African property and wealth lies with the top ten percent of citizens: the white minority. One must understand that serious issues are still present there. In this way, it will be a test of time in the coming years as to what South Africa makes of its new-found “developed enough” label, both promising and frightening.
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