South Africa Makes progress toward Millennium Development Goals

In September of 2000, world leaders adopted a common, holistic vision for human development for the first time. This was a breathtaking event. More surprisingly, they agreed upon a strategy and timeline for realizing the vision.

Millennium Development Goals represent a global partnership and pledge among signees to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Millennium Declaration.

As outlined in the 2005 Report to the UN Secretary-General entitled, Investing in Development: a Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs quantify basic human rights and set targets for addressing extreme poverty in all of its dimensions. This includes income, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter, gender inequality, and the lack of environmental sustainability.

It is easy to look at the goals without fully appreciating the transformational process required to attain them. The goals are designed to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and create a global partnership for development.

When the target date of 2015 comes, most countries will still be far from reaching their Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). But achieving MDGs is a process, not an end. The process must be constantly improved and perfected.

Jeffrey Sachs correctly observed that MDGs are beginning to “play a surprisingly important role in shaping the formal development agendas of dozens of low-income countries.” The goals must remain a development priority. Most importantly, the struggle to attain MDGs embodies the essential elements and necessary infrastructure for genuine nation-building.

Countries of sub-Saharan Africa are the furthest away from reaching their goals. South Africa will not have reached its goals, but it will be closer to achieving them than any other African Country.

The South African Parliament and the Provincial Legislatures have established Outcome-Based Priorities with 2014 as the target year. Reports thus far indicate the country is ahead of schedule on many targets, but is lagging in the attainment of others.

EuQuant (which powers the Gazelle Index) had the privilege of working with the Nigerian House Committee on MDGs and the Free State Provincial Legislature in evaluating their MDG progress.

We found the governments of both countries to be strongly committed to goal achievement. In addition, South Africa is in a unique position among African countries and indeed more broadly among developing countries worldwide.

Many of the problems that plague most sub-Saharan African countries are not present in South Africa. Those problems include the following: very high transportation costs and relatively small markets; low agricultural productivity; very high disease burden; a history of adverse geopolitics; and a very slow diffusion of technology from abroad.

South Africa has a well-developed infrastructure and private sector, and a stable macro economy. Nevertheless it still experiences educational inequality and a lack of access to quality healthcare. Those deficits, along with the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, account for why the country will not achieve its MDG targets on time. The country also has enormous challenges related to unemployment, poverty and life expectancy.

Fortunately, South Africa’s data infrastructure is also rather well developed for the purpose of monitoring and measuring the attainment of MDG targets and the impacts of programs and projects related thereto.

Quoting from the Republic of South Africa 2010, Millennium Development Goals, “in some cases, South Africa has achieved its MDGs more than five years before 2015, while in others South Africa is far from achieving these MDG targets. Between these two extremes are goals where achievements are probable or possible. In these cases, appropriate government interventions remain the key to making these goals achievable.” (2010:3).