South – South collaboration at the heart of South Africa’s population policy

Tuesday November 12 2019
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Springbok supporters gathered in the streets of Johannesburg to welcome their heroes on November 7, 2019. PHOTO| MICHELE SPATARI / AFP


The three-day Nairobi Summit on ICPD25: Accelerating the promise, commenced in Kenya today, November 12. The event marks the 25th anniversary of the groundbreaking International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which took place in Cairo in 1994.

During the conference, leaders articulated a bold vision regarding the relationships between population, development and individual well-being. Its Programme of Action, adopted by 179 governments, recognised that reproductive health, as well as women's empowerment and gender equality, are the pathway to sustainable development.

The Nairobi Summit will offer an inclusive platform, bringing together governments, UN agencies, civil society, private sector organisations, women groups and youth networks to discuss and agree on actions to accelerate the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action, which is critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

South Africa is committed to the full implementation of the principles and goals of the ICPD Programme of Action. As part of the build-up activities to the summit, on November 4 the Department of Social Development hosted a national seminar in Johannesburg on South-South Cooperation (SSC).

The aim was to present an opportunity to enhance the current institutional arrangements to effectively support South-South Cooperation and promote South-South agenda”, including, inter alia, “the consolidation of existing mechanisms of SSC.”

Developing countries today face multiple interlinked macroeconomic, financial, climate, and development challenges. For such countries to meet these challenges individually and collectively, South-South Cooperation has become more essential in all fields of international and domestic endeavour.


South-South Cooperation describes the exchange of resources, technology, and knowledge between developing countries, also known as countries of the Global South. This is making increasingly significant contributions to global development. The economic and geopolitical relevance of many countries has grown. In the past, South-South Cooperation focused on sharing knowledge and building capacities, but the countries of the Global South and new financial institutions have recently also become increasingly active in development finance.

The need for strategic and united collective action on the part of developing countries in the international arena has long been recognised, including in the 1978 Buenos Aires Plan of Action on South-South Cooperation, in the Group of 77 (G77) and China’s Yamoussoukro Consensus on the Principles of South-South Cooperation, and the reaffirmation of these principles of South-South cooperation by the G77 in September 2009. Such recognition is also seen in the establishment of South-South political and economic cooperation mechanisms such as the G77, the Non-Aligned Movement, the various Southern regional cooperation and economic integration organisations, as well as the South Centre as the multilateral intergovernmental think tank of developing countries. As a result, South-South cooperation is an important element in the South’s development process and in multilateral North-South dialogue and global governance.

The emergence of South-South cooperation can be traced to the 1955 Bandung Asian-African Conference where 24 newly independent African and Asian nations met to foster their political and economic co-operation. This evolved into the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961, enabling developing countries to maintain a neutral stance during the Cold War. In 1978 138 States adopted Buenos Aires Plan of Action (BAPA) for promoting and implementing technical cooperation among developing countries. BAPA presents an opportunity for reflection and review of South-South cooperation roles and functions in the evolving global development landscape of the 21st century.

Implementation of population policy

One of the milestones for South-South cooperation in population and development is the establishment of Partners in Population and Development (PPD) during the ICPD in Cairo, Egypt in 1994, which was initiated by ten developing countries from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Currently, PPD has 26 developing countries as its member states, representing 59 per cent of the world population, and South Africa joined PPD in 2007. PPD is an intergovernmental organisation dedicated to the promotion and strengthening of South-South cooperation in population and development, and reproductive health. Through advocacy, policy dialogues, exchange of information, best practices, research, training and technical cooperation, it assists both its member countries and many non-member countries in implementing the Programme of Action of the ICPD, within the broader framework of the Sustainable Development Goals. The Government of the Republic of South Africa Minister of the Department of Social Development serves as Secretary of EXCO and Boards from 2014, re-elected last year.

South-South cooperation, through exchange of knowledge and best practice empowers member countries to identify gaps and remobilise resources to set national targets for achieving ICPD and Sustainable Development Goals. Many countries have similar realities and have more relevant developmental experience, technical capacity and practical knowhow they can learn from.

South Africa’s experience in implementing population policy

  • South Africa has benefited from other countries through transfer of knowledge or exchange of experience in the field of family planning, population, sexual and reproductive health, and maternal health. Under this, the Centre for Disease Control in Egypt provides scholarships to attend Diploma in Population and Sustainable Development in Cairo, Egypt and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Government of India annually offers scholarships of a “One-year Post-Graduate Diploma in public Health Management” in New Dehli, India.
  • South Africa provides scholarships to Partners in Population and Development (PPD) member countries to be trained in South Africa: Leadership in Environment and Development at the Free State University and a Post Graduate in Population Policy Analysis at the North West University.
  • The Government of the Republic of South Africa has conducted study tours to India, Sweden and Brazil in order to improve universal access to Sexual Reproductive Health and Family Planning.
  • The UNESCO Regional Office in Zimbabwe provided financial and technical assistance for hosting the Migration Conference in South Africa.

The Government of the Republic of South Africa has been instrumental in the development of tools for management and implementation of South-South cooperation, and for strengthening monitoring mechanism for evaluating progress in population and development: SADC and African Union reports on the ICPD plan of action, Addis Ababa Declaration on Population and Development and BRICS reports on Population Matters.

South Africa has a regular budget line for South-South cooperation in family population and development activities, including various international commitments including BRICS, PPD, IPPF, etc.

Challenges and Opportunities

It is important to note that global cooperation has achieved major milestones, in particular with the endorsement of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change. Countries have translated these frameworks into concrete policies to benefit their people, often in new forms of collaboration across governments and with non-government actors.

Over the last decades, South-South cooperation has included more than just cooperation, to include such other modalities as technology transfer, knowledge exchange, financial assistance and concessional loans. A lot of attention has been given to how the big players like Brazil, China and India combine development cooperation and trade and investment in their international engagements. Yet, smaller actors provide the most innovative ways of collaboration which should be acknowledged. More acknowledgement given to developing countries’ ideas and policy making, as addressing global development challenges requires expertise from the South. Good policy making needs diverse sources of knowledge. Including knowledge from the South.

Achieving universal goals of sustainable development requires learning from countries from the South and making them equal partners in the global governance of development.

Not being naive to the political dimensions of South-South cooperation, negotiating at a global level is a political process that is influenced by the domestic political situation of all participating countries, and the history and legacy that gave rise to South-South cooperation in the first place. While moving towards common understanding and resolving differences between North-South and South-South countries, is a slow and incremental process. In the same vein, while South-South cooperation is key to sustainable development, this does not take out of the equation the importance of North-South Collaboration.

The author is the Minister of Social Development, South Africa.