The Five Most Urgent Sustainable Development Goals and their Implementation in South Africa

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2017

17 Pages, Grade: 70%


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 The Five Most Urgent Sustainable Development Goals and their Implementation in South Africa
2.1 Poverty
2.2 Hunger
2.3 Water
2.4 Sustainable Cities
2.5 Sustainable Societies

3 Finance and Institutional Framework

4 Conclusion


1 Introduction

On the 25 September 2015, the General Assembly of the United Nations have agreed on the Agenda 2030 with the forward-thinking title “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. Central Element of the Agenda are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals with their 169 targets.[1] Different than its predecessor, the Millennium Goals, the new plan does not focus on poverty only, but envisions a sustainable future thoroughly. This means a future, that meets present socio-economic needs without compromising the ability of future generations and the environment.

The target is clear, but challenging, though. As the goals exceed the Millennium goals in their scope, many critics state that they are too extensive and therefore unobtainable[2], bearing in mind the outcome of the millennium goals, which were not obtained completely[3]. However, the goals create a vision towards the world community should work, clearly acknowledging that the targets ahead are strongly interlinked.

Today, nearly a quarter century after Apartheid, that left the economic and social situation defragmented, South Africa still attempts to overcome the shadow of the past. Though South Africa is one of the most sophisticated economies of the African continent, many challenges are ahead. It is difficult to point out the most significant sustainable development goals for the country, as they correlate and overlap, building up on each other. However, the most urgent targets are those of fundamental issues that build a basis for the work ahead and target elementary human needs.

Therefore, this strategic paper will focus on the goals 1 (poverty), 2 (hunger), 6 (water), 11 (sustainable cities) and 16 (sustainable societies).

2 The Five Most Urgent Sustainable Development Goals and their Implementation in South Africa

2.1 Poverty

In 2015, more than one out of every two South Africans were poor.[4] This translates into a percentage of 55,5 % or over 30,4 million South Africans.[5] Correlating with these numbers is the alarming high unemployment rate of 27,7 % in the age group of 15-64.[6] An effective strategy to combat poverty is providing a social protection net[7], as the Addis Ababa Action Agenda recognizes, too.[8] In Botswana, due to the implementation of a social safety net, the proportion of the population living in poverty declined from 30,6% in 2002 to 19,3 % in 2009.[9] An effective social protection systems should rest on at least four main pillars: Access to healthcare, basic income security for children, for persons in an employable age who are unable to earn an income their self as well as for pensioners.[10] These components could ensure that people can escape from poverty permanently, as the rate of relapse is very high were no effective social protection is provided.[11] At the moment, the social system especially lacks in terms of care for unemployed as the Unemployment Insurance Fund’s coverage is very limited.[12] Firstly, 55 % of the unemployed never worked in their whole lifetime and, thus, have not contributed to the fund ever.[13] Secondly, government employees do not contribute to the fund[14], though these persons are those in the South African society with rather high-paid and secure jobs. If this was considered seriously, the fund could be improved to a high extend.

Moreover, the South African economy needs to create more jobs. A potential factor for a sustainable economic growth could be tourism. In 2015, one in twenty-two employees worked in the tourism industry, this represents 4,5% overall, surpassing the mining industry as the main employer[15]. However, tourism only contributed with 3,1 % to the economy, whereas the mining industry’s contribution was 8,0 %.[16] Thus, the tourism industry needs to find ways to exploit its full potential. One strategy could be to increase the spending per tourist. In respect of a sustainable development, the South African way should be a qualitative, sustainable ecotourism. Tourists who decide consciously for a fair and responsible form of tourism are willing to spend considerable more money for their accommodations and leisure activities. Moreover, jobs in the ecotourism field are of better quality, with employers contributing to their employee’s social security, education and further qualification.

2.2 Hunger

Goal number two does not only focus on food security, but also on the accessibility to good and healthy food. Thus, the goal recognizes the significance of nutrition for health.

Though South Africa is considered to be food secure, the country is facing the co-existence of undernutrition with the rising malnutrition, causing overweight and consequent diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular problems.[17] A healthy nutrition and health status are directly linked to an individual’s socioeconomic situation[18] and can contribute to an effective cost reduction regarding spending for health. Governmental programmes should focus the school, as a place, where most children can get involved. An effective way could be free and healthy meals for pupils, health education and school gardens with vegetable plants. Such food schemes should be strongly subsidised by the state, like successfully implemented in the Detroit Food Movement, too.[19]

Detroit also was a role model for urban agriculture, the crop and livestock production within an urban environment. The fast access to additional and more nutritious food contributes to a high extent to the overall food security.[20] Thus, urban agriculture is a way for Townships, as well. To intensify the accessibility and eventual outcome of urban agriculture, farmer can form cooperatives. Like a study of the Ruhango District in Rwanda illustrates, cooperatives work efficiently, simultaneously enabling social cohesion and support.[21] Cooperatives can also form a stronger financial power to buy agricultural equipment. Together, cooperatives are also capable of carrying financial risks in the form of credits. Here, governmental programmes should focus on micro credits, that can be refunded more easily. To implement the Sustainable Development Goal fully, agricultural initiatives should focus on biological cultivation methods.

2.3 Water

The accessibility to clean water and sanitation is an element of human dignity. Thus, it was acknowledged as a human right in the UN Resolution in 2010.[22]

The current water scarcity in the Western Cape illustrates once again how significant and rare water is. Despite the optimistic statistics presented by the government on the realisation of the right to water[23], only 46,3 % of all households had access to piped water in 2011.[24] The water accessibility varies considerably depending on the provinces.[25] Also the numbers regarding access to sanitation are alarming: In 2011, just over 60% of all households had access to a flush toilet.[26] Thus, providing access to piped water and sanitation remains a major governmental responsibility. Infrastructure for water pipes should be developed properly throughout the country, especially in townships and rural landscapes. As the government has linked its sanitation rollout to its housing delivery program, people experience the same delays regarding water access, they experience in the housing programmes.[27] Here, all authorities need to work faster and thoroughly to ensure an improvement in the daily life of many people.

Considering water as a rare resource in South Africa, it is irresponsible that high amounts get lost daily due to leakage[28]. Thus, municipal losses need to be reduced by improving the infrastructure.

Working sustainable towards the goals also includes close cooperation with companies involved. In the field of water distribution this affects especially the multinational company Nestlé, which sells municipal water high priced under the brand “pure life”.[29] In Doornkloof, near Pretoria, the Nestlé factory is build next to a settlement lacking in drinking water accessibility and proper sanitation.[30] It is difficult to understand that the people directly next to the water factory, bottling municipal water, have no access to it. In such cases, the government should take responsibility and work towards a cooperation with prosperous companies, e.g. with tax incentives in form of lower taxes for companies engaging in development assistance. Companies can in return profit from better marketing and a better public image.

2.4 Sustainable Cities

Goal number 11 involves a turn to sustainable development in the urban living space, including improved housing facilities, transportation and more easily accessible green areas.

South Africa still bears the burden of Apartheid’s housing policy, creating spaces of miserable living conditions, namely townships. Though nearly 25 years have passed, the situation remained for most people constant. Thus, stronger effort must be made for finally improving the housing situation. Housing types should be developed in association with universities, involving measures like green roofs or solar energy facilities, to build sustainable forward-thinking houses. These houses are more resilient to the impacts of natural disasters, like the storm and flood disaster has shown in June regarding the Imizamo Yethu Township, where 2000 residents have lost their home.[31]

Another major problem is the missing public transport system, that mainly affects the poor on their way to work, school and grocery markets. Though there are minibus taxis especially in the cities, people need to walk long ways to their next stops. These facilities are also lacking in a strategic route planning and reliable schedules. Here, greater efforts are needed to implement both an urban transport system as well as transportation facilities over land, e.g. in the form of busses and preferably trains. Investments should pursue a sustainable strategy, with solar busses that can drive environmentally friendly. Here too, universities can be integrated in engineering and implementation, creating a sense of responsibility for the country. To realize these initiatives, a more efficient planning and management system needs to get implemented firstly, as the current transport policy implementation suffers from defragmentation regarding funding and management.[32]

Indicated in target 11.7, accessible green spaces should be integrated into the urban living spaces. This can be reached through urban gardening, simultaneously combatting hunger and the climate impact, as well as by setting out park areas. Here, major affords must be provided especially to green areas with high-density, like townships. Accessible spaces, however, need transport facilities, to get the best outcome of initiatives and projects. A remarkable example is the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in Cape Town. Here, senior citizens enjoy free entries every Tuesday.[33] This initiative theoretically also includes poor citizen from the townships. However, they do not have an opportunity to reach the park due to the insufficient public transport.

Greening the urban areas can besides mitigate the effects of climate change, also support the implementation of the first goal, combatting poverty, as a reforestation project in Durban shows. Here, 82.000 trees were planted on former sugar cane land to stabilize areas for flood prevention. The project also includes the chance to earn an income from planting trees.[34] Thus, creative initiatives can contribute to more than just one goal.

2.5 Sustainable Societies

Goal Number 16 includes the promotion of the rule of law, corruption reduction as well as transparent institutions. Considering the lack of many basic needs in the society, this goal may seem to be only a minor target. However, in order to put major efforts in the successful implementation, a “good government”, with the best interests for its people, is needed.

In South Africa, the governmental crisis deepens,[35] facing many challenges, beginning at the refund of R8 million spent by the state for the President’s new swimming pool[36], many votes of no confidence and the “Guptagate”-scandal[37].

The effects of political corruption are crucial. Firstly, there is a trickle-down effect on to subordinates and the whole society.[38] Secondly, corruption weakens the whole economy. When the minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, was fired by Zuma in March 2017, international rating agencies downgraded government bonds to “junk status” and the value of the rand plunged.[39] Some economists estimate, that under Zuma, South Africa has lost US $ 74 billion to corruption and inept economic policies.[40]

Furthermore, political corruption discourages foreign investment. A counterexample is Botswana, that consistently remains high performer in the Transparency International’s ranking.[41] De Beers, the major diamonds producer, has relocated its sale branch even to Gaborone.[42]

The most effective measure against corruption is the strengthening of the civil society. When first encountered in school, children are sensitive for the issue.

Democratic structures in South Africa would also benefit from an electoral law reform.[43] As the ANC leadership selects those party members, who appear on the electoral list, party loyalty and obedience get enhanced at the cost national interests.[44] An alternative would be a direct election of local representatives.


[1] United Nations General Assembly Resolution 70/1 “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” (2015).

[2] Anonymous „The 160 commandments” The Economist (accessed 28-08-2017).

[3] United Nations “The Millennium Development Goals Report 2015” (2015).

[4] “Poverty Trends in South Africa: An examination of absolute poverty between 2006 and 2015” (2017) Statistics South Africa p.14.

[5] 14.

[6] “Quarterly Labour Force Survey Quarter 2: 2017” (2017) Statistics South Africa.

[7] United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs “Expert Group Meeting Strategies for eradicating poverty to achieve sustainable development for all” (2017) p. 1.

[8] United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs “Addis Ababa Action Agenda” (2015) p. 6.

[9] G J Honde “Botswana 2017” (2017) African Economic Outlook p. 11.

[10] UN “Expert Group Meeting” (2017) p.2.

[11] 3.

[12] The Presidency Republic of South Africa “National Development Plan 2030 Our Future-make it work” (2012) p. 370.

[13] 372.

[14] 372.

[15] “Tourism and Migration May 2017” Statistics South Africa (2017).

[16] “Tourism and Migration May 2017” Statistics South Africa (2017).

[17] H C Schönfeldt, N Hall & B Pretorius “The important role of food composition in policies and programmes for better public health: A South African case study” (2016) p.2.

[18] 2.

[19] N Malan “Urban Farmers and Urban Agriculture in Johannesburg: Responding to the Food Resilience Strategy” (2015) 54 AGREKON 51 62.

[20] United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization “Fighting Poverty and Hunger What Role for Urban Agriculture?” (2010) Policy Brief 10 Economic and Social Perspectives.

[21] S Mbanza & J Thamaga-Chitja “The Role of Rural Subsistence Farming Cooperatives in Contributing to Rural Household Food and Social Connectivity: The Case of Mwendo Sector, Ruhango District in Rwanda” (2014) 13 INDLINGA 251 255.

[22] UNGA Res 64/292 (2010).

[23] South African Human Rights Commission “Report on the Right to Access Sufficient Water and Decent Sanitation in South Africa: 2014” (2014) p. 53.

[24] 38.

[25] 38.

[26] 39.

[27] 40-41.

[28] GreenCape “Water–2015 Market Intelligence Report–“ (2015) p.20.

[29] Food & Water Watch “Hanging on for Pure Life” (2011).

[30] M Abel “Nestlé: to whom does water belong?” (08-04-2015) United Youth Journalists <> (accessed 28-08-2017).

[31] N Andersen “Cape Storm kills 5 people, thousands lose their homes” (07-06-2017) The South African <> (accessed 28-08-2017).

[32] J Walters “Public transport policy implementation in South Africa: Quo vadis?” (2014) 8 JTSCM p.7.

[33] Anonymous „Kirstenbosch“ <> (accessed 28-08-2017).

[34] D Roberts “Prioritizing climate change adaptation and local level resilience in Durban, South Africa” (2010) 22 Environment & Urbanization 397 410.

[35] J Dludlu “The crisis deepens” (2016) December 2016 New African 68 68.

[36] 70.

[37] Anonymous “In South Africa, putting a price on presidential corruption” (2017) August 2017 Africa Conflict Monitor 39 40.

[38] R I Rotberg “Strengthening Governance in South Africa: Building on Mandela’s Legacy” (2014) 652 The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science p.4.

[39] Anonymous (2017) Africa Conflict Monitor 41.

[40] 42.

[41] Rotberg (2014) AAAPSS 5.

[42] Anonymous “Building on Diamonds” debeersgroup <> (accessed 28-08-2017); C Ferreira-Marques “Goodbye London, hello Gaborone: De Beers sales head to Africa” (03-10-2013) REUTERS <> (accessed 28-08-2017).

[43] Rotberg (2014) AAAPSS 7.

[44] Rotberg (2014) AAAPSS 7; Dludlu (2016) New African 69.

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The Five Most Urgent Sustainable Development Goals and their Implementation in South Africa
Stellenbosch Universitiy
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Danielle Golinski (Author), 2017, The Five Most Urgent Sustainable Development Goals and their Implementation in South Africa, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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