Small fish in a big pond? External aid and the health sector in South Africa


Since a new government was elected in 1994, South Africa has become a favoured nation for the many bilateral and multi-lateral agencies providing aid to developing countries. Despite several relatively large pledges of \"transition support\", however, external resources constitute less than 2% of the annual government budget. This non-dependence has established a degree of equilibrium in a relationship normally regarded as highly unequal in other African countries. Although international donors funded the antiapartheid movement in South Africa prior to 1994, the new government inherited a chaotic administration that had little institutional experience of conventional development aid. Many of the new cadres entering government had not been exposed to the workings of government, let alone donor, bureaucratic processes. It is not surprising, therefore, that in the first few years after 1994, the aid relationship was characterized by low disbursements, unrealistic expectations and a degree of conflict. Since 1997, however, aid supported projects have started to become more visible. Within the broad objective of supporting transformation of the health system, one of the key areas of donor support is managerial capacity development, particularly of district, hospital and provincial health structures. These initiatives tend to be poorly coordinated, a problem compounded by a quasi-federal system in which provinces have large amounts of autonomy. The contribution of donor aid to strengthening the health system could be enhanced by the establishment of a clear national framework to guide the many externally supported projects building managerial skills and systems.


Health Policy and Planning (1999) 14 (3) 264-272

Small fish in a big pond? External aid and the health sector in South Africa

Published 4 December 2006