Opening remarks by the UN Resident Coordinator in South Africa, Ms. Nardos Bekele-Thomas at the UN Strategic Planning Retreat

By | 3 December 2019

03 December 2019

Director General of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation
The leadership of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation
Director Generals and the leadership of the Departments leading the Government Steering Committee for the United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation
Director Generals and the leadership of the various sector departments joining us today.
Colleagues from sister development partner organisations
Colleagues from the various state institutions. 
Our partners from civil society, private sector and labour who have joined us as constituencies of NEDLAC.
And to colleagues from the United Nations family. 
Ladies and Gentlemen

I would like to extend my most sincere gratitude to the Government of South Africa for its continued support to the United Nations family, both in South Africa and globally.
The relationship between the people of South Africa and the United Nations is a rich one.

Over the years the Government and people of South Africa have relied on the United Nations as an important instrument in trying to find durable solutions to domestic challenges, and more importantly over the past 25 years South Africa’s democratic Government has seen and utilised the United Nations as an instrument of transmitting its goodwill and democratic values to the rest of the world.

Through the work we are embarking on today I am confident that we will be able to carve out yet another pathway where the collaborative efforts of the UN and the Government of South Africa and its people will yield positive change in the lives of South African’s and those in neighbouring countries and the region at large. After all that is what the United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework is about. Creating a partnership between the United Nations and the country to effect positive change in the lives of a country’s citizens, its neighbours and the region.

Today marks an important point in the relationship between the United Nations in South Africa and the Government of South Africa. The current Strategic Cooperation Framework between the UN and the Government of South Africa was developed in 2012 and signed in 2013. This means that the current framework has been in place for a period of six years. By any measure six years is long time, and certainly in the world of development we appreciate that there may be many changes in the evolution of national challenges and priorities that may have occurred over this period. The current SCF was initially intended to conclude in 2017, but in consultation with Government we took a deliberate decision to extend it to 2019 for the sole purpose of starting a process of alignment between the implementation cycles of the country’s Medium-Term Strategic Framework and the Cooperation Framework between the Government and the UN.

Ladies and gentlemen, there have been many significant developments that have happened between 2013 and now. One of the most important was the transition from the MDG era to the new era of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by member states in 2015. I certainly do not need to go into the detail on the global process which led to their adoption, and the important role South Africa played in leading negotiations on the agenda on behalf of the continent and the developing world at large. The three important contributions of the SDGs to our approach of pursuing development has been the elevation of the wholistic view of development which brings the dimensions of People, Planet, Peace and Prosperity under a single lens of sustainable development, second is the emphasis on integrated approaches that appreciate the constant interplay and interaction between various facets of development and that no single one can be pursued in isolation from others and lastly the SDGs have assisted us to really elevate the environmental challenges of our time and their impact on development mainly through climate change but not limited to it.

So as we think about our first Cooperation Framework post the MDG era we have to consider how this new Cooperation Framework is anchored on these and other contributions of the SDGs in how we have come to understand and pursue development. Other examples include the emphasis on gender equality and the principle of leaving no one behind in the design and implementation of all our programming work.

From a national perspective, the adoption of the previous SCF in 2013 followed the adoption of the National Development Plan in 2012. At its adoption the aspirations articulated in the National Development Plan sought to galvanise South Africans towards a common purpose aimed at addressing the country’s core developmental challenges, namely poverty, unemployment and inequality. We were fortunate that the implementation cycle of our previous SCF closely followed the adoption of the NDP, as this placed us in a prime position to define our Cooperation Framework in line with the emerging priorities in the NDP. With this contextual background, the development of the Cooperation Framework we are working on for the next four years must acknowledge that many of the targets the country had set itself for the period leading up to 2020 have not been met. For example, the NDP had projected that by 2020 unemployment would be reduced to 14 per cent. The results of the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) for the third quarter of 2019 released by Statistics South Africa, indicate that the official unemployment rate increased by 0,1 of a percentage point to 29,1% compared to the second quarter of 2019. The number of employed persons increased by 62 000 and the number of unemployed persons increased by 78 000 to 6,7 million in Q3: 2019 compared to Q2: 2019.

One of the contributing factors to this has been the sluggish growth of the economy, which has largely underperforming when compared to the projected rates of 5 per cent per annum that were target in order to respond to the unemployment challenges.

So as we look forward to the next implementation cycle of the Cooperation Framework we have to keep this national context in our upper most thoughts. If we are going to achieve the SDGs in South Africa we have to collectively rally behind the successful implementation of the National Development Plan. We have to reflect on key indicators we are not achieving, and as the UN and the Government of South Africa we have to ask difficult questions on how we could have collectively done better to move the agenda of the NDP forward. We have to take important learnings from the previous 7 years of the NDP to consider what we can do differently in the coming 4 to 5 years.

Ladies and Gentlemen, since the establishment of South Africa’s 6th administration after the 8th of May 2019 elections we have been working in earnest with Government to set out a process which would ultimately culminate in the official signing of a new Cooperation for the period 2020 – 2024. We have been well aware that this journey would have to pass through the point we find ourselves at today, the SPR, and in this regard we have invested heavily with the Government Steering Committee to be able to convene this session with all of you today.

I have earlier indicated that the essence of the Cooperation Framework between the UN and the Government is to define the specific contribution of the United Nations to national development as led by Government. The path of defining what contribution the UN will make to support national developmental efforts has to be premised on a thorough assessment of both past contribution and the prevailing developmental context in country.

Through the programme we have developed for the next two days we will certainly be spending a lot of time reflecting on both these elements.
The on-going UN Reforms also form an important backdrop to the discussions we are going to have on the Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework between the UN and the Government of South Africa. I have read previous evaluation reports of our SCF in South Africa, and I can say without doubt that the consistent theme that can be deduced from these evaluations has been the call by the Government of South Africa to the UN in the country to work in a much more integrated way in how it provides its support and build capabilities for Delivering as One. The call for greater UN cohesiveness has been a global one, made by member states around the world. What the UN Reform has offered us is an institution wide reform agenda that seeks to respond to what member states have been requiring from us.

One of the important instruments for this reform is the very process we are undertaking for the next two days, that is the development of the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework. A couple of key distinguishing factors with this new UNSDCF is its deliberate positioning as an instrument to support the agenda of sustainable development, its emphasis on cooperation between the UN, the Government of the country and the people. Most importantly the shift is on how the UN organises itself as a singular cohesive force for national development, bringing together the sum of the parts to deliver an even stronger UN in country. So as we embark on this new UNSDCF we are happy that the UN Reform process has assisted us to respond to South Africa’s long-standing call for a much more integrated UN service offering, and our UN Country Team comes into these discussions fully embracing this idea.

Ladies and gentlemen, my intention was not to make a long input this morning, but really to thank the Government of South Africa for its commitment to the idea of the United Nations and its contribution to the cause of human development in all corners of the globe. Specifically, I would like to extend a word of gratitude for the Government’s support for the work of the UN in South Africa. With this UNSDCF we hope to express our own commitment to the development of South Africans, its neighbours and the region at large.


I and my team are looking forward to spending the next day and a half with you, sharing ideas on how best the UN can support national developmental efforts and carving out our unique role in the country’s developmental landscape.


At the conclusion of this session I hope that we would have been able to zoom in on the specific priority areas for the UN in the country.


Thank you very much, Siyabonga……