South Africa And The SDGs

The 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been very well received in South Africa since their formulation in 2015. The country has assumed a prominent role globally and in Africa in guiding the process and in negotiating for the adoption of the SDGs in its capacity as Chair of the G77 and China. 

Furthermore, former First Lady Graça Machel served on the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons and the former Statistician-General of Statistics South Africa led the Africa team under the African Union banner in formulating the indicators for the African Common Position. Because of this prominent global role, South Africa is named as one of the nine country movers of the SDGs, leading and showcasing the way that SDG domestication is being implemented. Yet enthusiasm for the SDGs is more pronounced at the political and senior echelons of policy making, while only slowly building up steam within government, civil society, the private sector and the public at large.

Some of the key questions raised by countries on the implementation of the SDGs are on how to do the monitoring and evaluation, and how to finance the goals. Different countries are at different levels of proficiency as far as monitoring and evaluation are concerned, and even on conducting the relevant surveys. South Africa is at the forefront in Africa and its baseline report on the SDGs4 is being widely used as an exemplar of good practice.

Notwithstanding, effective implementation will require strong commitment from and coordination between all stakeholders, since the SDGs extend beyond data collection and embrace the entire gamut of development from planning, formulation of national plans and strategies, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and reporting. In these early days of SDG roll-out countries that are often cited as good examples to emulate in mainstreaming the SDGs in their development process, such as Rwanda, have demonstrated strong coordination platforms on the SDGs and political leadership at the highest levels.

The United Nations and the SDGs in South Africa

The United Nations (UN) country team in South Africa builds on the UN’s global experience and expertise in supporting countries to find locally adapted and applicable arrangements towards SDG domestication. Under the direction of the UN Resident Coordinator and in consultation with all Heads of UN Agencies, the UN’s guiding principles for support on the SDGs in South Africa are the following:

  1. To strengthen government and national ownership by domesticating the SDGs in the context of the National Development Plan (NDP);

  2. To use existing systems and further enhance national processes as much as viable and avoid establishing parallel systems;

  3. To integrate the provincial and sub-national levels in the process;

  4. To work with central government as well as with local levels; and

  5. To work with all development partners including civil society, the private sector, academic institutions, philanthropic organisation and others.

To support the mainstreaming of the SDGs in national development plans, the UN is in discussions with the government to field a Mainstreaming, Acceleration and Policy Support (MAPS) mission that will, among other things, assess the alignment of the SDGs to the Medium-Term Strategic Framework (MTSF 2014-2019) and identify SDGs Indicator Accelerators. SDGs Indicator Accelerators refer to the SDG indicators with the highest multiplier effects in achieving the national objectives of the MTSF.

To support the harmonisation of interventions and accountability of the civil society organisations (CSOs) and minimise duplication, the UN facilitated the convening of thirty-six CSO alliances under an umbrella agenda, with Africa Monitor nominated as the focal point by the CSOs. The CSOs are consequently organising themselves around the Statistics South Africa Sector Working Groups used during the identification of the global SDGs and development of the domesticated indicators. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the government, through Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, and Statistics SA together with other partners, are working closely with the South African SDG Hub at the University of Pretoria to develop an online platform for the exchange of data, thoughts and knowledge products on the SDGs in South Africa and across the region. It is anticipated that this hub will facilitate research and innovation as well as reach out to the youth to promote their involvement with the SDGs.

Facilitation of engagement of the private sector through the United Nations Global Compact local network in South Africa is also progressing well, in that companies that are part of the network have mapped out and identified strategic action projects that are aligned with the NDP and the SDGs. Efforts to reach out to philanthropic organisations are also underway with a view to establishing an SDG philanthropy platform in South Africa. Eventually the aim will be to bring together all these actors and stakeholders through their organised groupings to form a national SDG institutional coordination mechanism that will cascade down to provincial and local levels to drive the implementation of the domesticated SDG agenda in the country.

In line with the MAPS, the UN and partners have developed a number of tools to facilitate private sector involvement in the SDGs. Some of these tools are described below.

SDG Wizard is a ‘conversation starter’. This easy to use tool has been developed by the SDG Philanthropy Platform to determine which SDGs targets and indicators are most relevant for an organisation and which indicators they can track to measure impact. The tool can be found at: Business+ is a survey that provides a status baseline report on the inclusivity and private sector alignment with SDGs. Ideally, the recommendations would be taken forward at both firm level and policy levels, allowing for future measurements of increase in awareness. The Inclusive Business Maturity Tool was developed by UNDP, Deloitte and Business Call to Action to support business leaders in pursuing inclusive business as a key to advancing the SDGs. This tool can be regarded as a journey within the business process of a firm whereby communities can be assessed and appropriately included in the business process as suppliers, processors, distributors or consumers. The SDG Philanthropy Platform developed Country Primers to expedite collaboration between governments, the UN and foundations through mapping SDG implementation by actors (public or private) and through showcasing the strategies that exist.

Tools are being continuously developed to support the government, private sector and philanthropic organisations, civil society and other partners to enhance the integration of the SDGs into day-today work and activities. The key points are that the private sector’s engagement in the SDGs must go well beyond corporate social responsibility or small donations in communities, and that it makes sound business and investment sense to be an active participant promoting the implementation of the SDGs.

Businesses that are well integrated within their communities and have a reputation of being socially, economically and environmentally conscious organisations through their business processes have a more solid supply-and-demand base, and better chance of success.


  1. Mbeki T et al. (2014) Report of high-level panel on illicit financial flows from Africa. Report, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa/African Union Conference of Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, United Nations, New York.

  2. Statistics South Africa (2017) Achieving the SDGs. Data Voices, 17 January, 2.

Prof. Willem Fourie is an Associate Professor: Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership, the Programme Director: Masters in Development Practice and Co-ordinator: South African SDG Hub. He is a faculty member of  the Department of Business Management | University of Pretoria, South Africa