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This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

South Africa: APIC on USAID
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South Africa: APIC on USAID
Date Distributed (ymd): 960613

The Africa Policy Information Center announces its latest
publication, USAID in South Africa: Learning Lessons,
Continuing Debates.  This 112 page book, written by Douglas
Tilton and edited by Jim Cason, is a timely assessment of the
strengths and weaknesses of USAID s South Africa program over
the past decade.

The following excerpts--an Executive Summary and the
concluding policy recommendations--provide an introduction to
the central themes of the study.  Those who wish to order
copies of the entire text may print, complete, and return the
order form at the end of this document.

Executive Summary

In a decade when foreign aid is increasingly under attack as
inefficient, unsuccessful, and irrelevant to the US national
interest, the South Africa aid program has been held up as a
model for a new type of aid -- foreign aid that works. Over
the last decade the US has spent nearly $1 billion on programs
to assist non-governmental organizations and lawyers defending
victims of apartheid, to strengthen community organizations,
and to help South Africans develop adult education programs to
meet the needs of their new society.

Just as the US aid program in South Africa made a contribution
in the period leading up to the establishment of a democratic
system in that country, so this study suggests that foreign
aid to Africa can play an important role in assisting African
development initiatives. At the same time, it argues that
foreign aid programs, both in South Africa and elsewhere on
the continent, need to be fundamentally refocused to support
more directly long-term, sustainable, and equitable

Evaluations of the US Agency for International Development
(USAID) program in South Africa have praised its innovative
character and emphasized its impact. The US was, for example,
the largest single donor to voter education efforts during
South Africa's first non-racial national election. Since then,
American assistance has helped the new government and non-
governmental organizations to build houses, to restructure
government ministries, to improve the educational system, and
to address other legacies of apartheid.

The case study in this book highlights these successes and in
particular the program's strength in responding to a changing
environment. During the past decade, USAID provided valuable
assistance to South Africans working to end apartheid.

At the same time, there is room for improvement.  USAID has
articulated a commitment to making  disadvantaged South
Africans  the main beneficiaries of its work.  But USAID s
recent initiatives have  not been as successful in addressing
the fundamental inequalities in South African society.
Generations of segregation and apartheid policies have left
most black South Africans with little access to housing,
education, health care, and many of the other benefits of
modern society.  Addressing these legacies is the primary task
of Nelson Mandela's government. Yet there is a danger that in
the post-apartheid period the small, relatively affluent
sector of the urban black population that has found regular
employment will enjoy the bulk of the benefits from
development planning while a large portion of the black
population is left behind.

The report suggests that the USAID mission subordinated the
goal of enhancing low-income households' access to housing to
a more overtly political objective: maximizing the
market-orientation of the post-apartheid South African
economy. The US assistance program for housing construction
was designed to frame the public debate over housing and to
point the new government towards specific policy choices by
promoting a relatively narrow range of market-based

One historic strength of the US program has been its emphasis
on supporting non-governmental and community-based
organizations.  The reports endorses continued US support for
civil society. At the same time, both as a practical matter
and as a matter of principle, US foreign aid to South Africa
must be structured to support and sustain development
strategies designed by South Africans both within the
government and in local communities. One key test for foreign
assistance should be how well it helps South Africans to
create their own independent institutions that can continue to
promote long term, sustainable, and equitable development
after the last US aid worker has left.

The study concludes that the weaknesses of the South African
aid program can be traced largely to policy decisions made in
Washington. Consequently, USAID personnel have to deal with a
complex and shifting set of priorities that make consistent
long-term support based on the needs of the beneficiaries
nearly impossible. This contradiction can only be addressed
through a reevaluation of Washington s foreign aid priorities.
The author has therefore identified several policy
recommendations for US aid programs in South Africa.

1)   Strengthen local control of the development process: The
US must work to strengthen the participation of both the South
African government and local community-based organizations in
designing the structure, content, and priorities of US
assistance programs in South Africa.

2)  Reduce economic inequality: The US should structure its
programs so that the poorest 50 percent of the population are
the primary beneficiaries and so as to strengthen the ability
of this segment of the population to organize and to
articulate its needs.

3)  Strengthen local level, community-based and
non-governmental organizations:  The US should continue to
work in partnership with South African-controlled community
and non-governmental organizations, but must strive to channel
its aid more effectively in order to strengthen these
organizations' capacity to deliver services, to engage in
policy advocacy, and to realize their own, internally-defined,
development agendas.

There are compelling reasons to continue to provide assistance
to the new government in South Africa, both to support that
government through this critical transition period and to
enable South Africa to become an engine for development and
growth in the entire region. But to achieve these objectives
the US assistance program in South Africa must be
fundamentally refocused in order to support long-term,
sustainable, and equitable development.


US Foreign Assistance to South Africa:
Policy Recommendations for Future Programs

Two messages emerge from the preceding discussion of USAID
programs in South Africa, both of which have clear
implications for the continuing debate over US foreign
assistance policy:

1)  US aid to South Africa should be continued.  The history
of USAID's involvement in South Africa, particularly its
support for South African organizations working to end
apartheid and to establish a more just political and economic
order, has demonstrated that US assistance can help to improve
conditions for poor communities.  Such programs have had the
greatest beneficial impact when they have enhanced the
capacity of South Africans to act on the basis of their own
assessments of the problems confronting them and their own
priorities for change.

South Africa's transition to democracy has not resolved the
enormous array of social, political, and economic problems
generated by apartheid and by the centuries of oppression on
which apartheid was founded.  Democratic institutions simply
give South Africans a mechanism by which they can begin to
rebuild their society, but the extent to which they are able
to do this will be determined by the resources at their
disposal.  At a time when many foreign governments are
curtailing aid to South Africa, US assistance assumes
increasing importance.

2)  The US assistance program in South Africa needs to be
refocused.  South Africans are working to identify a
development path which is simultaneously sustainable and
equitable. USAID's growing emphasis on market-oriented
approaches is often inconsistent with the  commitment to fair
and balanced growth articulated by many South African
community leaders.  This divergence has become more marked in
recent years as USAID has devoted increasing attention and
resources to its private-sector projects.  It is time for a
reexamination of the program's direction and a reorientation
of its activities.

Both as a practical matter and as a matter of principle, US
aid to South Africa must be structured to support and sustain
development strategies designed by South Africans, including
government officials and community representatives. US
assistance should help South Africans to create independent
institutions that can sustain equitable development even after
the last foreign aid worker has left.

Specifically, US assistance programs in South Africa should be
refocused in order to:

*  Enhance local control of the development process.  US
assistance programs must allow South Africans to determine
their own development strategies, priorities, and objectives
and must respect this emerging agenda.  In practice, this
means soliciting greater participation by both the South
African government and local community-based organizations in
designing the structure, content, and goals of US assistance

The new, democratically elected government in South Africa has
established several structures to improve the coordination of
foreign assistance.  These aim to ensure that foreign aid is
allocated within the overall priorities of the government's
Reconstruction and Development Program and to prevent project
duplication or unfunded budgetary obligations. South Africa
also has a network of strong and vibrant community
organizations, church  groups, unions, and non-governmental
organizations involved in development projects. Although the
US has worked with non-governmental organizations in the past,
the responsiveness of the US assistance program to grassroots
South African priorities needs to be improved.

*  Reduce economic inequality. The US should structure its
programs so that the poorest 50 percent of the population are
the primary beneficiaries and so as to strengthen the ability
of this segment of the population to organize and to
articulate its needs. Evaluations of US assistance programs
should assess how well they are serving the poorest of the
poor, particularly in rural communities.  Explicit attention
should be devoted to analyzing the extent to which each
initiative redresses the economic legacies of apartheid by
promoting a more equitable distribution of wealth within the

Many of the existing aid projects in South Africa are of most
immediate benefit to permanently employed black South Africans
working in the formal urban economy. These projects, which are
often linked to private-sector business development efforts,
can have a tremendous impact on long-term development, but
they do not directly address the needs of the poorest sectors
of the black majority.  Moreover, they can exacerbate existing
inequalities within the society. US assistance should be
focused on programs which provide sustainable new
opportunities to that portion of the black population that was
most completely excluded from the apartheid economy.

*  Build robust and dynamic organs of civil society.  The
historic strength of the US program in South Africa has been
its work with non-governmental organizations, some of which
have strong links to grassroots communities. The US should
continue to work with South African-controlled community and
non-governmental organizations, but must strive to channel its
aid more effectively in order to increase the capacity of
these organizations to deliver services, to engage in policy
advocacy, and to realize their own, internally-defined,
development agendas.

The tensions inherent in this strategy are obvious. The
broadly defined "civil society" in South Africa, which
includes non-governmental and community-based organizations,
unions, religious institutions, and civic groups, is
undergoing a period of tremendous turmoil as individuals and
institutions seek to redefine their roles in the new society.
Many of these organizations were developed primarily to
support campaigns against apartheid.  A large number will not
have useful roles in the post-apartheid era and will be unable
to sustain themselves.  US aid should not be used to prolong
the lives of organizations which have failed to retain popular

At the same time, efforts to promote the development of civil
society should be complemented by programs which help South
Africa's new, democratic government to realize its objectives.
Elected officials will ultimately be responsible for defining
the broad outlines of social and economic policy and for
ensuring the coordinated delivery of services.  US assistance
programs should facilitate the articulation and implementation
of public policies capable of improving the lives of all South

Community-based organizations in particular can play a pivotal
role in ensuring the local level, democratic participation in
development projects that is essential if such initiatives are
to become truly sustainable. At the same time, they can help
to create a government which is both effective and responsive
by holding the actions of elected officials up to public
scrutiny.  In identifying partners in South Africa, the US
should assess the degree to which these organizations are
accountable to and controlled by the communities which they
seek to serve, the effectiveness with which these groups
implement their programs, and the degree to which they can
ultimately be sustained by funding from within South Africa.

code: dl9606

Please send me ____ copies of
USAID in South Africa @ $8.95 ea.         $__________

PLUS shipping & handling*         +       $__________

TOTAL                                     $__________

Name ________________________________________________

Address _____________________________________________

City ___________________ State ______ Zip ___________

Phone ___________________  Fax ______________________

* Please add $2.50 shipping and handling for the first copy
and $1.00 for each additional copy, up to 10.  (APIC will bill
shipping and handling for orders over 10.)  Foreign Orders:
please add an extra 20% of the subtotal.

Payment: All orders must be prepaid or accompanied by an
institutional purchase order.  Please remit payment in US
dollars and make checks or money orders payable to APIC.
Please allow 4-6 weeks for delivery.

Return order forms to: Africa Policy Information Center
                       110 Maryland Ave., NE, Suite 509
                       Washington, D.C.  20002

This material is produced and distributed  by the Africa
Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary objective is
to widen the policy debate in the United States around African
issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on
providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis
usable by a wide range  of groups and individuals.  APIC is
affiliated with the Washington  Office on Africa (WOA), a
not-for-profit church, trade union and  civil rights group
supported organization that works with Congress on
Africa-related legislation.


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