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South Africa

Ireland enjoys extremely good relations with South Africa. Our development programme started in 1994 at the end of apartheid. We have supported the Government and civil society organisations to deliver services to poor and disadvantaged communities who remain trapped in poverty, particularly those who are affected by HIV and AIDS and gender-based violence.

CHOICE carer Irene giving HIV patient Betty advice on healthy vegetables to grow

  • Overview
  • Background
  • Our Work
  • Results


Ireland and South Africa

Ireland and the Irish people have a long and strong connection with South Africa. We have had an aid programme there since 1994 when the country underwent a transition from apartheid to democracy. Previously, support was provided to Irish missionaries and anti-apartheid groups.

The development context in South Africa differs to that of the other Irish Aid country programme in Africa. It is classified as a middle-income country but continues to suffer from the legacy of apartheid with marked inequalities. Our programme in South Africa is built on the principles of respect and mutual accountability.

We are currently implementing the third of three 1 year country strategies. A new multi-year country strategy for South Africa is currently being developed. Irish Aid’s current support focuses on an integrated approach to tackling HIV and AIDS and gender-based violence, to addressing skills and capacity deficits in South Africa as well as promoting economic development.This aligns with the approach set out in the Africa Strategy. Through our Embassy in Pretoria we will be working to build a deeper economic partnership between Ireland and South Africa. Enterprise Ireland established an office in Johannesburg in 2012 - its first office in sub-Saharan Africa.


South Africa is the second largest economy on the African continent, recently surpassed by Nigeria. It has abundant natural and mineral resources, a relatively sophisticated infrastructure, and a well-developed private sector. The Government is undertaking a number of initiatives to promote economic growth, in particular, addressing the critical skills gaps in the country. Lack of inward investment and poorly-skilled personnel is a serious impediment to South Africa’s growth as a developed economy

Nanikie, a carer with CHOICE, giving Thaitha advice on nutrition

Inequality and the delivery of basic services to all citizens remain major challenges for the Government. South Africa has been severely affected by HIV and AIDS, with an estimated 17.9% of the adult population (people aged 15-49 years) living with HIV in 2014.

The strain of this high prevalence rate on already poor health facilities and the burden on social services is immense. The impact of HIV and AIDS is most severely felt by the poor people, particularly vulnerable groups such as women, children and the elderly. 

Linked to the pandemic are the high levels of rape and domestic abuse that are prevalent in South Africa. In this regard, the country also experiences extremely high levels of violence, in particular, gender-based violence, which aggravates the incidence and vulnerability to HIV and severely impacts on women and girls.

Our Work

Irish Aid has provided development assistance to South Africa since 1994. The current Ireland in South Africa Strategy‌ runs from 2017 to 2021, and will provided over €10m, aimed at addressing the development of critical skills, building education links and reducing gender based violence.

Education Skills and Development

There are two key elements to our work in this area. The first is the Kader Asmal fellowship programme, which provides scholarships to students from South Africa to study at Master's degree level in Ireland. On their return to South Africa, recipients of the fellowship are supported and encouraged to develop and maintain links with Irish scholars and businesses through the alumni association. In 2017, a new alumni association for Irish fellowship students was formed to promote and sustain links between graduates and contacts made whilst in Ireland.

This contributes to long-lasting links between Ireland and South Africa. In 2018,13  students were successfully selected to participate in the programme, studying areas ranging from economics to climate change

The second is support for life skills training in selected institutes of vocational training, and the promotion of greater links between South African and Irish institutes of higher education. In 2018, we successfully expanded these life skills training programmes to cover 5 technical and vocational institutes across the country, ensuring this successful model of life skills training is taken to scale.

Gender based violence (GBV)

Gender-based violence remains a significant concern in South Africa and is part of a wider generalised violence. Widespread unemployment, coupled with alcohol/substance abuse, leave women particularly vulnerable to violence in a society where 20,000 murders were reported last year. Irish Aid supports selected projects that focus on violence prevention. In addition, we fund community-based organisations that provide assistance to survivors of GBV. An example of this work is the Sonke Gender Justice programme which mobilises communities on GBV, tracks the progress of reported cases through the justice system, and works with disadvantaged men understand their context and raise awareness on this issue.

At a national level, we work together with the UN and a number of agencies in South African civil society to improve coordination in this area, ensuring that resources are allocated to assist survivors and implement prevention activities and advocacy with government to take greater stewardship for this problem.

Further detail on the Irish Aid programme in South Africa is available in the South Africa Country Strategy 2017-2021.

Ireland’s Development Assistance Annual Reports detail the many results delivered through Ireland’s aid programme, across our partner countries, including South Africa. They include key policy developments and details of Ireland’s overseas development assistance across the world.



  • Total funding to South Africa in the period 2010-14 amounted to €22.5 million:National structures have been established to implement the South Africa National Strategic Plan on HIV and AIDS and strengthen systems that measure progress, to improve the quality of community and home-based care and to ensure that the needs of children and women are addressed.
  • A pilot referral system for rape survivors has been established to improve and strengthen the provision of services between police, health care workers and social workers by the Limpopo Department of Health and Social Development.  

More Information

Read our South Africa Country Strategy Paper 2017-2021.

Find out how the Joint Consortium on Gender Based Violence is contributing to tackling this issue in South Africa.