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United Nations Development Programme

South Africa Human Development Report 2003 - Summary

The Challenge of Sustainable Development in South Africa: Unlocking People's Creativity

Asghar Adelzadeh
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Posted with permission of Asghar Adelzadeh, principal author and coordinator.
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Sustainable development reflects a process that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It is multidimensional and encompasses complex interactions between economic, social, political, and environmental issues. It represents a development framework that makes the conquest of poverty, the goal of full employment and the fostering of a stable, safe and just society the overriding objectives of development policy and interventions.

The primary responsibility for translating the sustainable development agenda into action lies at the national and local levels. This is because the sustainable development of any country can only be as effective as its people want it to be. It is fundamentally an endogenous process, generated and sustained by the energy of a society and its ability to learn creatively from its own and others' history. At the same time, there is a measure of consensus that the effectiveness of the state remains fundamental to the development process.

Since its transition to democracy ten years ago, South Africa has recorded impressive achievements. These achievements were analysed in the 2000 National Human Development Report. In the aftermath of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, the aim of The South Africa Human Development Report 2003 is to identify the main challenges to sustainable development in South Africa, and to define a consistent strategy and policy direction that will help unlock the creativity of the country's stakeholders to meet Based on literature on sustainable development and relevant trends in socio-economic development and policy-making in South Africa, the Report has identified and analysed five central challenges facing sustain- able development in South Africa. These are: the eradication of poverty and extreme income and wealth inequalities, the provision of access to quality and affordable basic services to all South Africans, the promotion of environmental sustainability, a sustained reduction in the unemployment rate, and the attainment of sustainable high growth rates.

Analyses in Chapters 4 to 8 of the Report identify specific factors that have historically engendered severe problems of poverty and inequality (Chapter 4), deprivation in terms of access to basic services (Chapter 5), environmental degradation (Chapter 6), a rise in the unemployment rate (Chapter 7), and an inadequate and developmentally unfavourable growth path (Chapter 8). Significantly, these outcomes are found to be attributable to both the past and current structure of the economy, and to the strategy and policy framework that has informed public and private sector interventions in the economy. At the same time, the five challenges of sustainable development in South Africa are found to be highly interrelated. The Report sets out a sustainable development strategy for South Africa. The strategy provides a broad framework for how the South African development process can begin to produce outcomes that are consistent with sustainable development. The strategy puts responsibility on bold reform initiatives by the government, a positive private sector response to new measures and support from labour and other civil society organisations. An important finding of this Report is that shift- ing decision-making closer to communities and their organisations can improve the connection between sustainable development policies and outcomes. Moreover, the Report argues that the real prospect for sustainable development in South Africa depends on confronting political challenges: that is, strategic political interventions that focus policies and support measures on achieving the goals of sustainable development.

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