This article serves to argue that concept of sustainability is considered differently for developing countries versus developed countries to the idea that freedoms are articulated differently. Developed economies tend to look at sustainability with a significant focus towards environmental impact whilst developing countries consider sustainability from a socio-economic perspective which includes infrastructure-related challenges. This article creates an awareness of the fact that sustainability is envisioned differently and relates to issues faced in the country, the region, the continent, and the world. The concept of freedoms matters in South Africa and is argued to be necessary for incorporation into any sustainability initiatives. Notwithstanding that we are globally disconnected on sustainability priorities, it remains that varying perspectives do increase dissonance by influencing how we behave, debate, construct developmental strategies, execute projects, and transform societies with the intention to remain sustainable. Depending on one’s background, culture, experiences, and prevailing aspirations, we will see sustainability and its constructs differently. If we are to work as a unified collective to address sustainability at a global level, we must find each other – an altruistic view. Presently we can argue that our power crises have brought a disconnect to the fore, creating the renewables versus coal discourse. It is an example of environmental versus social/economic debate towards a sustainable energy solution. The sustainability pillars namely social, human, economic and environmental serve as the basis for defining and articulating sustainability strategies with respect to programs, initiatives, and actions. Sustainable development pillars are the same however exclude the “human’ pillar. The human pillar also referred to as the cultural pillar is a recent addition to the initial three. These pillars have been researched and constructed for businesses, communities, public sector agencies and the like, to assist with meaningful and relevant applications. Social refers to initiatives that support healthier, fair, and just communities. Environmental refers to the preservation of environmental resources so as not to over-exploit them, thereby allowing ecosystems the chance of recovery. The economic pillar refers to economic and financial sustainability in the usage of efficient assets. The cultural pillar enables initiatives only when the beliefs, processes and practices of a given society are protected and nurtured. The identity of communities should remain intact for sustainability to flourish. It is likely that socially just communities with strong economies and robust cultures will find that the environmental pillar is key to their sustainability. Exploring the environmental pillar may confuse other communities that are more concerned with near-term survival and prioritise other pillars. I would argue as postulated above, the latter applies to South Africa, Africa, and perhaps other developing countries. Having made a case for differences in sustainability priorities, it can be seen why there would be different emphasis on sustainability initiatives across communities. The initiatives relevant to sustainability in South Africa and perhaps other African and developing economies relate to the following: Poverty and inequality; South Africa is struggling with high levels of poverty and income inequality exacerbated by one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, which can hinder efforts to achieve sustainability. Poverty exacerbates environmental degradation as people may resort to unsustainable practices, such as overexploitation of resources or reliance on polluting technologies.

Access to clean water and sanitation relates to the effective provision of infrastructure. South Africa currently faces the challenges of providing adequate access to clean water and sanitation facilities to all. Lack of access to safe water and sanitation not only affects public health but also leads to contamination of water sources and improper waste disposal, contributing to environmental degradation of which the recent cholera outbreak is indicative.Deforestation and biodiversity loss with developing countries often have high rates of deforestation, driven by factors such as agricultural expansion, logging, and fuelwood collection. Deforestation not only reduces biodiversity but also contributes to climate change by releasing greenhouse gases and disrupting ecosystems. This remains a current disconnect between the developed and developing economies. Adding insult to injury, many advanced economies continue to trade and maintain the demand for natural resources whilst professing sustainable ideologies in the same breadth. Employment on the back of providing and maintaining infrastructure is a short-term initiative that has a direct and positive impact.

Climate change vulnerability relates to the environmental pillar where developing countries are often more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to factors like limited resources, weak infrastructure, and high dependency on climate-dependent sectors like agriculture. This vulnerability can lead to increased risks of extreme weather events, food insecurity, and water scarcity. In addition, energy access and clean energy transition is a problem that South Africa faces currently and is common to many developing countries that still rely heavily on fossil fuels for energy, leading to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Lack of access to modern and clean energy sources also limits economic development opportunities in these countries.

Lastly and not limited to waste management and rapid urbanization and population growth in developing countries have led to increased waste generation. However, countries often lack adequate waste management infrastructure, leading to problems like open dumping, landfill pollution, and improper disposal. The above-mentioned sustainability issues are therefore a mixed bag that pertain to the pillars, and of which all have an infrastructure solution. As there is an endless list of problems, I postulate that initiatives that underpin freedom will gain the greatest buy-in as it promotes socioeconomic progress.Addressing sustainability requires a comprehensive approach involving various stakeholders, including government institutions, international organizations, civil society, and the private sector. Efforts should aim to promote sustainable development practices, improve access to clean water and sanitation, promote renewable energy adoption, protect biodiversity and forests, strengthen infrastructure, and build climate resilience. Freedom in South Africa is about the struggle for people to think, theorize, interpret the world and write from where they are located, unencumbered by colonial influences. In many developing economies, locals are engaging in diverse struggles for cognitive justice whilst trying to interpret the world as they see it. I think South Africa is no different. Therefore, a fact comes to the fore that South Africa can only articulate sustainability if it achieves political, cultural, economic, and other freedoms. The motivation is that the sustainability pillars corroborate the necessary freedoms and can therefore serve as the motivation for where the focus should be. As South Africa has transitioned to political freedom, economic freedom will allow for socio-economic growth and prosperity. If citizens can engage in economic activities of their choice, such as starting a business or choosing their employment, it is thought that sustainability can be progressed. In South Africa, it will therefore be reasonable to link sustainability to economic freedom to garner the support to transform existing practices, methodologies, and policies to incorporate hard-coding requirements that embody sustainability. There is a sincere need for the government takes socio-economic development and by implication sustainability to the core of its purpose in how it leads the country which is currently not the case which is why there is an argument for growing unsustainability. A key construct of South Africa’s socio-economic freedom is that of land ownership and wage inequality which have yet to be meaningfully addressed and has become a political bargaining chip with no real resolution in sight. Both issues are significant that may secure the comfort of the majority that freedom is in fact possible. By implication South Africans risk losing their freedoms to the extent that we may even lose our hard-fought political freedom should we proceed on our current trajectory. 

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