Civil society organisations and participation in the millennium development goal processes in South Africa
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The Millennium Summit hosted by the United Nations in September 2000 adopted the Millennium Declaration, signed onto by 189 member states, including South Africa. The declaration outlined eight development priorities commonly referred to as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The eight MDGs range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education with a target date of 2015. Pledging to the declaration along with member states were the private sector, foundations, international organisations, civil society and research organisations.
In respect of civil society, the declaration enjoined on country governments a commitment to develop strong partnerships with the private sector and with civil society organisations (CSOs) in the pursuit of development and poverty eradication, and to give greater opportunities to the private sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society in general, to contribute to the realization of the organisation's goals and programmes.
In its third MDG progress report to the UN submitted in 2010, South Africa noted that while the process of drafting the report had been designed to be widely consultative and transparent, the draft country report was predominantly a government report and that participation of CSOs in the process was irregular. The report concluded that MDG processes must ensure that government, NGOs, and the private sector work together in partnership in order to ensure the complete implementation of the MDGs (RSA, 2010, p116).
As the 2015 deadline for the realisation of the Millennium Development Goals approaches, there is much debate on what shape the post-2015 arrangements should take, given lessons that have been learnt in the past. Concerns over Africa's poor progress in meeting MDG targets have been noted. Amongst these is the importance of adapting the goal targets to suit country specific development challenges. While it is acknowledged that governments have to take the lead in MDG processes, it is also evident that different stakeholders have distinct and equally important roles to play. CSOs can and should contribute towards the progressive realization of the MDGs but they need the requisite capacity in order to maximise their contribution.
This study reports on the findings from a qualitative study conducted in 2013 drawing extensively on a literature review of CSO experiences globally in engaging with MDGs as well primary research involving a select group of CSOs and key informants from across South Africa. Key findings emerging from the study were that MDGs cannot be realised by governments alone and that CSOs can and do play a critical role in enabling the achievement of MDG targets. This was particularly in relation to the role they play in articulating the needs and aspirations of the poor; in filling crucial service delivery gaps and in modeling and innovating good practices. The Zambian Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR) model of engaging multi-stakeholders (including CSOs) was noted as a model for replication both in terms of enabling multiple and diverse voices to be captured and in creating a space for debate and contestation. The study also noted that a 'one size fits al'? approach to supporting CSO engagement with MDG processes would not be appropriate.
Another significant finding was that South African government could draw important lessons from international experience of CSO involvement in MDGs beyond contributing to the writing of periodic progress reports.
The study concluded with two key recommendations for government to consider as a means of strengthening CSO engagements with MDGs namely:
a. That governments must be purposeful in creating the means and strategies for strengthening partnership between Government and Civil Society around MDGs;
b. Resources need to be provided to enable effective participation of CSOs in MDG process beyond an implementation.