2020 marks a decade left to achieve the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the objectives of South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP). While government, companies and the development sector have turned their attention to addressing the most urgent Covid-19-related needs, the SDGs and NDP should be viewed as roadmaps to ensure sustainable approaches to rebuilding societies after the peak of the pandemic.
The SDGs or Global Goals were introduced when member states of the United Nations (UN) adopted a new sustainable development agenda in 2015. In South Africa, a development agenda was already in process, guided by the NDP. Although closely aligned, the two agendas are not contiguous. Both aim to achieve their goals by 2030, but the globally focused SDGs were introduced three years after the NDP, which is most concerned with national challenges.
The SDGs have had to be domesticated to some extent, but South Africa cannot report on all the targets due to a lack of indicators or reliable national data. The Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) have indicated that 74% of the SDG targets are directly addressed by the NDP, with sectoral programmes addressing 19% of the remaining targets.1
The world’s population is expected to exceed 8.5 billion by 2030 – with between 65 million and 67 million people in South Africa, according to UN data – so it is critical to find ways to accelerate progress towards the Global Goals.2
The responsibility cannot be the public sector’s alone, however – business is also obliged to play its part and demonstrate its commitment to people and planet as well as profit. Although 84% of businesses surveyed by the UN are acting on the SDGs, as of 2020, only 39% of their corporate goals are aligned to societal and environmental needs. The United Nations Global Compact has therefore launched an SDG Ambition programme to encourage companies to set ambitious corporate targets aligned with the SDGs and integrate them into their core business management strategy.3
How companies are engaging with the SDGs and the NDP
According to Trialogue research conducted in 2020 (see Chapter 1 on page 24 of the Trialogue Business in Society Handbook 2020), 59% of South African companies surveyed have integrated the SDGs into the overall strategy of their organisations, while 54% have incorporated the NDP into their strategy. A further one-quarter (26%) used the NDP somewhat frequently as a framework for reporting and measuring their work. Companies are aligned with an average of 6.3 of the 17 UN SDGs. Of interest is the fact that more than half of companies (52%) do not use the UN’s SDG global indicator framework of 247 indicators for corporate social investment (CSI) measurement, suggesting that many align broadly, and perhaps superficially, with the SDGs.
Companies have begun to report on the SDGs that represent the opportunities most applicable to their business activities. According to a 2019 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 68% of South African companies surveyed mentioned the SDGs in their reporting. Michael Rogerson, a senior consultant at OEE Consulting, says that sustainability reports will increasingly revolve around how companies are contributing towards meeting SDG targets. Many have already identified which of the goals are closest to their mandate and with which they can align their strategy. “Twenty years down the line, if you’re behind on sustainability, you’ll probably be behind in terms of bottom line also,” he asserts. “Conversely, there’s an opportunity to get ahead of your sector by prioritising delivering on the goals. That’s going to set you apart.”4
After identifying which goals and targets are best aligned with their company’s strategic focus, organisations should embed sustainable development targets across their business operations and value chains. Wherever possible, they should ensure their efforts to deliver on the SDGs are also aligned with the NDP and existing legislation, like BBBEE, making it easier to achieve country-specific outcomes. They should also drive awareness of the 2030 Agenda and the 17 SDGs among business stakeholders, including suppliers, driving messages regarding value, innovation, and transformation. Public-private collaboration is vital for the achievement of the SDGs, so taking partnerships forward wherever possible is a good strategy. This includes investing in capacity building to accelerate service delivery and having conversations about asset and infrastructure ownership. Corporates can consider partnering with other companies, both large and small, and across sectors to align efforts to accelerate progress, working across an extended value chain.
Covid-19 and developmental progress
The pandemic has put a spoke in the wheel when it comes to achieving global development goals.
The 2020 Social Progress Index, compiled by the non-profit Social Progress Imperative, estimates that we are unlikely to achieve the SDGs until at least 2092 if we continue our current trajectory.5
The 2020 Goalkeepers Report, authored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, indicates that Covid-19 has effaced close to 20 years’ progress towards the SDGs, with regression across all SDG indicators.
The report shows that extreme poverty has increased by 7%, with economic shocks expected to render between 83 million and 132 million people food insecure. “All countries must work together to end the pandemic and begin rebuilding economies,” the report says. “The longer it takes us to realize that, the longer it will take (and the more it will cost) to get back on our feet.”6
In a webinar conducted by the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy, Civic Engagement and Responsible Business at the American University in Cairo,US economist Jeffrey Sachs recommended an international arrangement much like Bretton Woods be drawn up to enable countries to fulfil their SDG commitments. In his view, the SDGs are essentially a public-sector-led investment strategy and achieving them will be enabled through a new form of international taxation and debt relief for those countries that need it most, among other things.
Although the pandemic has proved a major setback, the UNDP has asserted that, by aiming higher and being bolder, we can alter the trajectory of development for the better. By engaging with the possibility of ‘better’, we will no longer accept where we were pre-pandemic. “Covid-19 is forcing us to revisit our values and design a new area of development that truly balances economic, social and environmental progress as envisioned by the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs,” the UNDP has stated.
The SDGs and the NDP – how far have we come?
The information below provides a snapshot of South Africa’s progress and has been compiled from data that appears in, among others, South Africa’s Voluntary National Review (VNR) Report 2019, presented to the UN in July 2019, the Sustainable Development Goals Country Report 2019 – South Africa, compiled by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), and Towards a 25 Year Review 1994–2019, produced by the DPME.
Note: We have focused only on those SDGs with the greatest developmental impact. South Africa is not able to report on all indicators and domesticated indicators are identified.
South Africa’s poverty line is higher than the global absolute poverty line used in the SDGs. Using South Africa’s line, around half the population was considered chronically poor at the upper-bound national poverty line (R1 227 per person per month) in terms of April 2019 prices, even before Covid-19 reached our shores. The NDP’s aim is to ensure the eradication of absolute poverty, but the proportion of the South African population living below the lower-bound national poverty line increased from 36% in 2011 (18.7 million people) to 40% in 2015 (21.9 million people). The NDP’s strategy to address poverty includes broadening access to employment, strengthening the social wage, improving public transport, and raising rural incomes. The South African Government spends close to 60% of its budget on social wages to alleviate poverty.
Covid-19 update: The Institute for Security Studies says that a contraction of GDP growth to -2.5% as a result of the pandemic would see about two million more South Africans categorised as extremely poor compared to 2019 (which could increase to 2.5 million with a 5% contraction).7 In his Medium Term Budget Policy Statement in October, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said the economy is expected to contract by 7.8% this year, with real GDP growth of 3.3% expected in 2021.
Eradicate extreme poverty
Indicator 1.1.1: Proportion of population below the international poverty line of less than $1.25 a day
Adequate nutrition is considered one of the elements of a decent standard of living according to the NDP. As such, the South African Government has placed tremendous emphasis on nutrition for pregnant women and young children, implementing the National School Nutrition Programme among other things. Food security remains a pressing issue in the country, however – Stats SA found that almost 20% of South African households had inadequate or severely inadequate access to food in 2017.
Covid-19 update: The pandemic has undermined any fragile gains made in food security and led to mass hunger in the country, with some 47% of households running out of money to buy food in April 2020. The figure declined to 37% in June, when the strict lockdown was lifted – but food insecurity is still twice as bad as it was four years ago.8
Universal access to safe and nutritious food
Indicator 2.1.2D: Prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity in the population (based on the Community Childhood Hunger Identification Project (CCHIP) index)
End all forms of malnutrition
Indicator 2.2.1: Prevalence of stunting (height for age <-2 standard deviation from the median of the World Health Organization (WHO) Child Growth Standards) among children under five years of age
Phasing in National Health Insurance (NHI) has long been a goal of the NDP, with emphasis on upgrading public health facilities, producing more health professionals, and reducing the relative cost of private healthcare. Several health metrics have notably improved over the years. According to Stats SA, maternal healthcare use increased significantly between 1998 and 2016, with deliveries in a health facility increasing from 83% in 1998 to 97% in 2016.
Covid-19 update: Covid-19 has made it difficult for HIV-positive people to obtain their medication. By July 2020, the Gauteng Department of Health reported a 19% reduction in HIV medication collection since the introduction of lockdown.
Reduce maternal mortality
Indicator 3.1.1: Maternal mortality ratio
(unit: deaths per 100 000 live births)
Fight communicable diseases
Indicator 3.3.1: Number of new HIV infections per 1 000 uninfected population, by sex, age and key populations
(unit: new HIV infections per 1 000 uninfected population)
The NDP’s goal is to have all children in grade 3 able to read and write; it also wants to ensure that 90% of learners pass maths, science and language subjects with at least 50% by 2030. However, education faces an uphill battle in South Africa, where only 37% of learners who start grade 1 go on to complete grade 12 and 78% of grade 4 learners cannot read for meaning in any language, according to the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study.9
Covid-19 update: By the end of August 2020, at least four million children will have missed more than half (57%) of the number of scheduled school days for the year.
Stats SA research shows that pupils in 68% of households were struggling to adapt to the new mode of learning under lockdown. Poorer children are more likely to drop out of school due to a lack of supportive educational material.10
Free primary and secondary education
Indicator 4.1.1A2: Percentage of youth aged 15–24 and 15–34 years who dropped out of school without completing grade 12.
According to WHO, the female interpersonal violence death rate in South Africa was 12.1 per 100 000 women in 2016 – almost five times the global average. Regarding employment equity, the 2018/19 Global Wage Report indicates that women earn on average 28% less than their male counterparts in South Africa.
Covid-19 update: Three million jobs were lost between February and April 2020. Two million of those were women and the majority were previously disadvantaged individuals.11
End all violence against and exploitation of women and girls
Indicator 5.2.2D: Number of women and girls aged 15–18 who have accessed victim empowerment centres in the previous 12 months (domesticated indicator) (excluding the North West province, as the only information available was 5 307 women/girls in 2015/16).
Indicator 5.5.2: Proportion of women in managerial positions
Housing, water, sanitation, and electricity are all explicitly mentioned elements of a decent standard of living according to the NDP. South Africa is the 30th driest country in the world and reliable water access stands at just 64% of the population, according to the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan. One of the goals of the NDP is to ensure that all South Africans have access to clean running water in their homes (88.6% of South African households had access to piped water in 2017, according to Stats SA). About 56% of South Africa’s waste water treatment works are dysfunctional.
Covid-19 update: Communities in waterscarce municipal areas have struggled to maintain good hygiene in the face of the pandemic, with some using dishwashing liquid and methylated spirits to protect themselves against infection.12
Safe and affordable drinking water
Indicator 6.1.1: Percentage of population using safely managed drinking water services
Growth has been on the decline, with GDP shrinking by 2% in the first three months of the year, even before Covid-19 hit (the steepest contraction since the first quarter of 2019). The South African Reserve Bank expects GDP to contract by at least 7% in 2020 due to the pandemic.13 This will make it extremely difficult to increase employment from 13 million in 2010 to 24 million in 2030 – a goal of the NDP.
Covid-19 update: During the first quarter of the year, the formal unemployment rate reached 30.1% for the first time ever, up from 29.1% in the final quarter of 2019.14
In the third quarter, unemployment was at 30.8%, but in terms of the expanded definition, which includes discouraged job seekers and factors in the lockdown, it stands at 43.1%, according to Stats SA.
Sustainable economic growth
Indicator 8.1.1: Annual growth rate of real GDP per capita
Between 2003 and 2016, the real incomes of South Africa’s top 1% of income earners doubled. By contrast, the incomes of 95% of the population stagnated or showed only slight growth. The NDP aims to increase the share of national income of the bottom 40% from 6% to 10% by 2030; it also aims to see the Gini coefficient fall from 69 to 60 by 2030. However, in 2019, the World Bank’s Gini Index scored South Africa at 63.4, indicating that we have a long way to go.
Covid-19 update: The International Monetary Fund has proposed a wealth tax to create a more equitable economy after the pandemic. An article entitled Coronavirus: Why South Africa needs a wealth tax now suggests that such a tax could raise R143 billion a year.15
Reduce income inequalities
Indicator 10.1.1: Growth rates of household expenditure or income per capita among the bottom 40% of the population and the total population
According to Stats SA, the number of households living in formal dwellings across the country has increased from 76% in 2002 to 80% in 2014. The NDP aims to progressively eradicate informal settlements, build integrated urban settlements, and fasttrack housing provision. However, the burgeoning urban population makes this a moving target.
Covid-19 update: In April, government issued a directive that municipalities were to suspend evictions until lockdowns could be lifted. Illegal land occupations have intensified, with several protests taking place around the country.
Inclusive and sustainable urbanization
Indicator: 11.1.1D1: Percentage of urban population living in informal dwellings (domesticated indicator)
The NDP indicates that crime can be reduced by strengthening criminal justice and improving community environments. There is little doubt that crime remains one of our most pressing challenges. From April 2019 to March 2020, the South African Police Service (SAPS) recorded 21 325 murders in the country, up 1.4% from the year before. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s July 2019 report pointed out that more than 486 260 South Africans were murdered between 1994 and 2017.
Covid-19 update: During Levels 5 and 4 of the lockdown, murder cases dropped by 72% compared to the same period of time the previous year, according to Police Minister Bheki Cele. He implied that this was partly due to the first ban on alcohol, which came into effect on 26 March 2020.
Reduce violence everywhere
Indicator 16.1.1D: Number of murder victims per 100 000 population (domesticated indicator)
1. Sustainabledevelopment.un.org. (2019). South Africa’s Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – Voluntary National Review (VNR) Report. https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/23402SOUTH_ AFRICA_RSA_Voluntary_National_Review_Report_Final__14_June_2019.pdf
2 Business Tech. (2019). Here’s how many people will be living in South Africa by 2030. https://businesstech.co.za/news/lifestyle/323763/heres-how-many-people-willbe- living-in-south-africa-by-2030/#:~:text=Statistics%20South%20Africa’s%20 latest%20population,67%20million%20people%20by%202030.
3 Mok, A. (28 July 2020). Insights for quantifying SDG ambitions. https://www.greenbiz.com/article/insights-quantifying-sdg-ambitions
4 White, S. (2018). Why businesses should engage with the SDGs. https://www.fm-magazine.com/news/2018/may/un-sustainable-developmentgoals-
5 2020 Social Progress Index. https://www.socialprogress.org/assets/downloads/ resources/2020/2020-Global-SPI-Findings.pdf
6 Gates, B. and M. (2020). 2020 Goalkeepers Report – Covid-19, A Global Perspective. https://www.gatesfoundation.org/goalkeepers/report/2020-
7 Cilliers, J. (14 April 2020). SA still has choices: COVID-19 impacts on poverty and income. https://issafrica.org/iss-today/sa-still-has-choices-covid-19-impacts-onpoverty- and-income
8 Cleary, K. (30 September 2020). Hunger remains a crisis in SA, despite new survey numbers. https://www.spotlightnsp.co.za/2020/09/30/analysis-hunger-remains-acrisis- in-sa-despite-new-survey-numbers/
9 Duncan-Williams, K. and Mansfield, M. (21 June 2020). Before, during and after Covid-19: An academic catch-up plan for South African learner [si c] https://www. news24.com/news24/columnists/guestcolumn/opinion-before-during-and-aftercovid- 19-an-academic-catch-up-plan-for-south-african-learner-20200619
10 Statistics South Africa. (July 2020). Social impact of COVID-19 (Wave 3): Mobility, Migration, and Education. http://www.statssa.gov.za/?page_ id=1854&PPN=Report-00-08-04&SCH=72655
11 Mlambo, S. (15 July 2020). Poor black women most affected by 3 million jobs lost between February and April. https://www.iol.co.za/news/politics/poorblack- women-most-affected-by-3-million-jobs-lost-between-february-andapril- 51006978
12 Tandwa, L. (30 June 2020). ‘We can’t wash our hands’ – Makhanda residents have no water for Covid-19 fight. https://www.news24.com/news24/southafrica/news/ watch-we-cant-wash-our-hands-makhanda-residents-have-no-water-for-covid- 19-fight-20200630
13 www.businesstech.co.za. (28 May 2020). South Africa faces ‘historic’ Covid-19 economic shock. https://businesstech.co.za/news/finance/402569/south-africafaces- historic-covid-19-economic-shock/
14 Toyana, M. and Dludla, N. (23 June 2020). South Africa’s unemployment rate hit record high before virus. https://uk.reuters.com/article/safrica-economyunemployment/ south-africas-unemployment-rate-hit-record-high-before-virusidINKBN23U1NT
15 Chatterjee, A., Gethin, A. and Czajka, L. (28 April 2020). Coronavirus: why South Africa needs a wealth tax now. https://theconversation.com/coronaviruswhy- south-africa-needs-a-wealth-tax-now-137283