This news item was originally published in the SDG Bulletin South Africa’s April 2018 edition


Namhla Mangaliso

Civil society organisations in South Africa working on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have long believed that the SDG agenda offers an important opportunity to accelerate implementation of the National Development Plan to address the needs of poorest and most vulnerable in our society. The South African CSO (civil society organisations) Working Group on SDGs identified the need to address inequality, accelerate economic participation, promote environmental sustainability and enable accountable inclusive governance as important priorities for development.

Operating since 2015, this Working Group was closely engaged with the South African government ensuring that Agenda 2030 by the United Nations becomes a people’s agenda that truly reflects the ‘leave no-one behind’ principle.
The Working Group is a network of South African civil society organisations that work to promote the implementation and monitoring of the SDGs in South Africa. Hosted by African Monitor, the Working Group is organised into sectoral clusters focusing on governance, social, environmental and economic issues. It is an open inclusive platform for civil society with a presence at national and provincial levels.

The Working Group recognises the commitment made by the South African government to implement the SDGs; and notes with disappointment the slow pace with which delivery is taking place. As part of the implementation agenda, several milestones were expected in the first 18 months since the SDGs were adopted in September 2015. These include (i) integrating SDGs into the national policy and budgeting framework; (ii) developing a clear framework for the implementation and monitoring of the SDGs; and reaching agreement on a multi-stakeholder engagement mechanism to ensure a society-wide approach to SDG implementation. It has been more than two years since SDGs were adopted, and none of these milestones have been achieved.

South Africa has an important opportunity to make the SDGs count. President Cyril Ramaphosa and his cabinet have committed to a social sector summit. The South African civil society sector, and indeed citizens eagerly wait to hear how and when this summit will take place. It will be critical to ensure that the SDGs form an integral part of the social sector summit deliberations for three reasons:

  • Firstly, the SDGs promote a holistic integrated approach to development, where targets for people, prosperity and planet must be achieved in an environment of accountable governance through strong partnerships.
  • Secondly, the SDGS have adopted the leave on-one behind principle, where the most vulnerable in society must become the priority. In a country like South Africa, rated the most unequal in the world, this is an important principle to adopt. The key question to ask is: to what extent do policies sacrifice the needs and aspirations of the poorest in favour of prioritising the needs of business and elites? We believe that an audit of existing and new policies should be in place to assess the extent to which the leave no-one behind principle is honoured.
  • Finally, the SDG agenda makes it clear that the governance system must change to make space for other sectors of society to freely participate in decision making processes. It especially stresses that citizens must participate at the local government level where implementation is supposed to take place. We believe one of the ways of giving citizens a voice, is to promote citizen-led SDG monitoring processes.

At the last meeting of the SA CSO Working Group community-based organisations strongly called upon government to play a more effective role to increase awareness about the SDGs among citizens; and to support efforts to build capacity of civil society.
South Africa made a commitment at the United Nations to be among the ‘first-movers’ or lead implementers of the SDGs. The Working Group is deeply concerned that the slow pace of implementation not only reflects government reneging on this global commitment; but also shows lack of political will to change the lives of South Africans.

Civil society is committed to work with government towards the social sector summit and to fast-track implementation. We are encouraged by recent commitment from the Department of Planning Monitoring and Evaluation to work with civil society and other stakeholders in this regard. We are further encouraged by the effective role played by the UN System in South Africa under the leadership of UNDP. However, if this goodwill is to be meaningful, tangible results are necessary in the lives of the poor. Together, we must make SDGs count!