Links to UN bodies

Links to site map

Main Links

    [an error occurred while processing this directive]

National Activities: South Africa

South Africa Flag

South Africa

Report Submitted by South Africa to the Fourth International Workshop on the CSD Indicators of Sustainable Development
Hosted by the Government of the Czech Republic in Prague
19-21 January 1998

Testing of Indicators of Sustainable Development


South Africa, through its Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism has agreed to assist the CSD in the testing of the proposed list of sustainable indicators. The CSD indicator testing in South Africa started in February 1997 after the Committee for Sustainable Development agreed to the process to be followed. It was felt that collection of all available data for the CSD indicators would be beneficial to DPCSD indicator development as well as a good platform to contribute to a National State of the Environment Report for South Africa. Thus, none of the CSD indicators have been given a national priority.

Institutions (including NGOs) that operated on a national level, were invited to participate in the process. Initially government institutions and umbrella NGOs were invited to participate in the testing process. Later on specific institutions and individuals outside government who could make contributions on specific issues pertinent to testing were identified and approached to provide input on specific indicators. A questionnaire (and an instruction sheet as well as an information page) was designed for the testing purpose. The questionnaire was designed to obtain, in a structured format, information on the relevancy of indicators, comprehensibility of the methodology sheets, and the international comparability of the data.


The aims for the testing programme in South Africa can be summarised as follows:

  • Raise awareness;
  • Establish an indicator network of people involved in indicator issues;
  • Determine which of the CSD proposed list of indicators are used in South Africa and if data is available for them;
  • Establish which organizations are using indicators related to sustainable development;
  • Determine which other indicators are used;
  • Obtain ideas on the usefulness of the methodology sheets;
  • Determine the format in which data for indicators are available (e.g., printed, maps, electronic databases, etc.);
  • Obtain data for the indicators which are used in South Africa;
  • Assess the available data with reference to quality, quantity, reliability and comparability;
  • Determine if there are any restrictions on the use of data and if costs are involved in obtaining the data;
  • Determine the sources of data and whether these have been published; and
  • Publish a document reflecting trends of specific indicators.

Because few people were familiar with the concept of indicators and their use, it was felt that awareness was one of the priority needs. Consequently, an information package was put together and given to all participants. This information package contained the following documentation:

  • A copy of Indicators of Sustainable Development, Framework and Methodologies;
  • A copy of the document Guidelines for national testing of indicators of sustainable development (dated January 1997) from the UN outlining the testing of the CSD indicators of sustainable development;
  • An information page on the completion of the data sheets;
  • A master data sheet;
  • A copy of a Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism report Environmental Indicators, which forms part of the State of the Environment series, and which addresses, amongst others, the use of indicators and indicator frameworks.

Four information sessions were held to familiarise participants with Agenda 21 Chapter 40, the development of sustainability indicators by the CSD, the CSD testing process and timetable, as well as to give guidance regarding the completion of questionnaires.

It was also necessary to present information and therefore a presentation, using a set of transparencies, was developed. Some 21 government departments and research institutions attended the information sessions.

One of the main aims of the first year of testing has been to obtain data sets on indicators already in use in South Africa. Unfortunately, the response to this request has been poor. Considerable time was spent to obtain data from published and other sources and to date some 51 data sets have been verified. It is also possible to provide a list of most social, economic and environmental indicators which are used in South Africa and which corresponds to the CSD list of indicators. The various inputs from organisations and departments have been analysed in preparation for the November 1997 report. Data have been tabulated and where possible time series data are presented in graphical format. For a few indicators data is also available in geo-referenced format. These data sets will provide valuable background information for the workshops that are planned for the current year of testing.

Preliminary results:
Indicator Use in South Africa.
SOCIAL 41 34 19
ECONOMIC 23 15 11
TOTAL 134 74 48

South Africa was approached by Finland to twin with them in the testing of the CSD list of indicators. South Africa agreed to this and the twinning arrangement with Finland has started well. A Finnish delegation visited South Africa from 17-21 February 1997 where the twinning was planned in detail. It was decided that both countries would analyse the relevancy of all the indicators in the CSD list and collect the data (if available) separately. A follow up meeting took place in September in Helsinki. Two officials from the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and one official from the Water Research Commission visited Finland. Results of testing were discussed in informal workshops and a one day seminar was held on 10 September 1997. Approaches to a joint report to the CSD were also discussed and agreed to. One of the most fruitful parts of the twinning will be the identification of indicators that are relevant to one partner but not the other. For example, Finland cannot say much about desertification, but desertification is important in South Africa. Similarly, many of the social indicators that are advocated are not relevant to Finland, but are of key importance in South Africa.

The nature of cooperation is primarily the exchange of information and ideas. Results will be reflected in the joint report submitted to the CSD.


The CSD indicator menu is well structured and follows a logical framework. Some of the methodology sheets are however confusing and it is a pity that there are some gaps in the pressure-state response framework. By this we mean that for many indicators the picture is still incomplete in the sense that for example driving force and state indicators are suggested but no response indicators are given. The interlinkages between indicators are sometimes weakly defined.

The CSD list of indicators does however present a list of indicators from which countries may select appropriate indicators and the list can therefore be used by countries as a good starting point to develop own indicator initiatives.

Generally one could argue that the list of indicators reflect a developed world perspective and that it does not yet sufficiently incorporate appropriate indicators for less developed countries and countries in transition.

5.1 Usefulness of the CSD classification system

The CSD framework is based on the four domains of sustainable development, the issues addressed in Agenda 21 and the driving force (pressure)-state-response model. Similar frameworks are used elsewhere and many of the indicators suggested in the CSD list are commonly used in many countries in the world. Generally speaking the organization as used by the CSD is useful. It should however be realised that the driving force-state-response model is based on the concept of causality, although it is not possible to isolate direct cause-effect relationships. This should be kept in mind when data on indicators are presented to policy makers and also when referring to interlinkages between indicators.

5.2 Efforts to identify interlinkages and issues of aggregation

It must be realised that South Africa is using the opportunity to test the CSD list of indicators to start a groundswell of awareness regarding sustainable indicators and their potential use. Although some headway has been made, generally speaking there is still a lack of awareness at most levels of government. A lot of work still has to be done to convince institutions of the importance of indicators in general and sustainable indicators in particular.

Within the current testing process no efforts were made to identify or investigate interlinkages between indicators. An approach to incorporate this issue in further testing should be investigated. Also, no attempt has been made to aggregate indicators into for example indices. There are however a number of other projects currently undertaken in South Africa that addresses issues of aggregation. Two examples worth mentioning are the Estuarine Health Index and indicators in support of service need and provision.

5.3 Proposal for improvements in the overall organization and menu of indicators

Interlinkages must be shown more clearly. The gaps in the driving force-state- response framework should be filled as soon as possible. It is also suggested that the "blue book" should be expanded to include a section explaining the driving force-state-response framework used by the CSD.

5.4 Overall assessment of the usefulness of the methodology sheets

The methodology sheets are useful. It provides enough detail for the layman to understand the significance, underlying definitions and concepts. The methodology sheets therefore provide a reference for comparison between approaches to, for example, the measurement methods proposed by the CSD and those used in a specific country. For those countries where no indicator programmes exist, the methodology sheets, together with the CSD menu of indicators, could provide a starting point to initiate indicator programmes.


Presented below are some of the successes of the first year of testing. However, numerous problems were encountered and these are also presented below.

  • People are more aware of indicators than before.
  • We have a better understanding of which indicators are currently used in South Africa. It must be pointed out however that the information obtained in the survey is not complete.
  • It was possible to build some capacity within central government regarding indicators.
  • Although it was initially difficult to obtain the involvement and commitment of some central government departments, we were eventually successful in engaging most departments in the testing.
  • An indicator network has been created and this network will expand in future. The network will play an important part in any follow up work that needs to be done.
  • South Africa did manage to put a team together to lead the testing process and that by itself shows commitment to the process.
  • Other indicator initiatives have been launched, including an initiative to identify/develop indicators for sustainable human settlement, and some initiatives around forestry indicators have started. Although these initiatives can not be directly attributed to the testing process in South Africa, it is encouraging that these initiatives are taking place and that debate on indicators is starting to pick up some momentum.
  • The CSD time frame for testing was very tight and initially we tried to adjust our testing approach to the time frame provided. This impacted negatively on the width of consultation and the depth to which institutions were prepared to respond on indicators, given the time constraints.
  • There was no existing network that could be used for the testing. Some problems were experienced in setting up a network on an issue that few people have ever heard of and even fewer had any significant exposure to.
  • We have hoped to obtain data sets on the indicators in use in South Africa. Unfortunately the request for data was not very successful.
  • In some instances data related to sensitive issues (such as hazardous wastes) is still regarded as confidential and even though data sets exist, there is a reluctance to make the data available for general consumption.
  • Some "official" data sets proved to be inaccurate and could not be used, even though they were the only ones available.
  • In many organizations the capacity to assist in a testing programme of this nature does not exist.
  • Although it was relatively easy to obtain commitment form central governmental departments to assist in the testing of indicators, the time frame made it difficult to involve major NGOs, industry and business. It must be pointed out however that contacts have been established and that interest in the planned workshops has been expressed by industry.
  • The CSD reporting framework was received rather late at a time when the testing programme in South Africa was well under way. It was not possible to adjust the testing process in mid-stream.
  • Some institutions commented on indicators even if they do not use the specific indicators. Although this is to be expected and broadens the base from which inputs are received, there is some concern on the validity of some comments. It is at this stage of the testing phase also difficult to judge the validity of some comments.
  • Not many organizations were involved in this phase of testing.
  • There is a general lack of awareness regarding indicators and their use, especially environmental indicators.
  • There are differences of opinion and conflicting views on indicators and, as mentioned above, it is not possible at this stage to resolve these differences. This issue has to be addressed in future.
  • The general lack of continuity in government is to be expected with a government in transition. This did however impact negatively on follow up work.
  • Perhaps the most important problem encountered is the lack of a clear national strategy for sustainable development with clearly defined priority areas.

One will have to look carefully at the problem areas experienced during testing and adjust the programme accordingly. Some supportive programmes must be put in place to make this testing programme a success. This include:

  • A national strategy for sustainable development.
  • Awareness raising - should be increased substantially. All available media (brochures, Internet, press) should be used to make people aware of the testing initiative, its purpose and aims.
  • A permanent coordinating body/ secretariat should be established.
  • A clearing house mechanism should be put in place.
  • The establishment of a programme/ unit for environmental statistics should be investigated.
  • Institutions (especially governmental institutions) should be compelled to make information (data) available on request.
  • The programme must be seen as a permanent programme with dedicated personnel and budget.
  • There should be close ties between this testing programme, State of the Environment Reporting and the development of policy.

The testing programme should be expanded to include a series of workshops. This has been lacking up to now. One approach would be to have a sectoral approach and workshop all indicators relevant to specific sectors/issues such as mining, agriculture and manufacturing. Alternatively such workshops could focus on the four indicator groupings, that is, social, economic, environmental and institutional indicators.


There were two criteria which were applied in the selection of participants for the testing of indicators. These included:

  • Must be responsible on the national level to collect/publish data related to the list of CSD indicators; and
  • Must be operational at the national level.

The following lessons were learned regarding the involvement of major groups and other stakeholders

  • More time is needed to involve major stakeholders in the process. One on one discussions are often necessary to convince stakeholders to participate. Considerable effort should be put into lobbying;
  • It is easier to involve national government departments then other stakeholders. This is because they have the responsibility for the monitoring of indicators;
  • It is not easy to involve research institutions. They need to commit time and money to a process for which there is no financial gain. It is often not possible for them to do this within the current budgetary constraints;
  • There is a general lack of awareness. A culture of sustainable development and its measurement must be developed in South Africa. The low level of awareness manifests itself through a lack of effort by institutions in committing themselves fully to the process (eg. Data sheets not attached);
  • Limited resources (manpower) hindered the process; and
  • Initially some time was wasted in finding the right persons to talk to. No indicator network existed. There is also no champion for environmental statistics and the focus still remains on economic and social data. This is reflected in the general poor replies received for environmental indicators and the lack of good quality information for these indicators compared to the social and economic indicators.


During the first year of testing covered in this report, the focus has primarily been on the identification of those indicators in the CSD list that are used in South Africa, to obtain data for them and to provide some comment on the methodology sheets. Continuation of testing into 1998 and beyond is subject to the availability of resources(both financial and human resources). Should the testing programme be continued, four focus areas should be pursued. These are the hosting of sectoral workshops to discuss in more detail the proposed indicators and methodology sheets, the publication of data sets collected during the first year of testing, the development of a sustainable development home page on the Internet where results of testing will be reflected, and the development of a comprehensive communication strategy with regard to indicators for sustainable development and the testing process.

With regard to the proposed workshops, some ideas have been exchanged with our twinning partner, Finland, to involve Finnish experts in the workshops. This idea has to be developed further. Contact has also been made with GRID-Arendal regarding the development of a home-page for Sustainable development.

For further information, please contact:

Dr. J Rudi Pretorius
Director, Sustainable Development
Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism
Private Bag X447
Pretoria, South Africa
Tel. no.: (27-12) 310-3713
Fax no.: (27-12) 322-6287

Additional Reports