Spatial development in South Africa

I have been following one of my Feint and Margin colleagues S. Mahlaba’s enlightening article on agriculture, rural development and the challenges that must be overcome if agriculture is to help us solve the unemployment that South Africa is currently facing. I happened to read an interesting research on the future role of cities in the world’s economic development.

According to the Mckinsey Global Institute research there are currently about 600 cities in the world that accounted for more than half of the global GDP in 2007 and this pattern is set to continue over the next number of years up to the year 2025. The key finding of the research is that the economy of the world is increasingly moving to urban areas and as such urbanisation will be the key to accelerate economic growth. The strategic question that should be occupying the minds of South African policy makers even more is what this means for South Africa. This is primarily because South Africa is still largely a rural country with underdeveloped rural areas still accounting for the large part of our country’s spatial framework. This situation of underdevelopment in rural areas is also responsible for a lot of the out migration that we see from rural areas to cities of people who do not have the skills to participate effectively in the economies of the cities. The results are either unemployed people or people who are at the bottom end of the economic food chain and cannot afford the standards of living in the city and therefore find vacant land nearby and start an informal settlement; causing further problems for politicians, policy makers and administrators.  So for South African policy makers two issues that should be on their agenda are: firstly how do we solve the problem of over population in cities and secondly how do we position the country for further growth and to play a significant role in the world’s economy in the years to come given the future role of cities.

I believe that the answer to these two questions lies in the manner in which we approach rural development and subsequently agricultural development. I believe that the key to reducing urban migration is to bring the same level of development to the rural areas that are currently found in cities. However, as we might all be aware, this is rather impractical, as development is in most cases linked to some kind of sustainable economic activity in a locality, which can take the form of a primary sector, secondary or tertiary sector.

To go back to the issue of agriculture, rural South Africa has a lot of land that in most cases is not used effectively for the benefit of local communities and owners etc. Therefore the key is to invest in the education of skilled agricultural workers in the rural areas as well in entrepreneurship development and support programmes that will produce the kind of entrepreneurs that will make effective use of the vast land available in the rural areas to employ people. The up-skilling of agricultural workers can take the form of specialist high schools that are located within the 50km radius of a number of rural villages. Such as for example in Rustenburg where about 30 villages that are dependent on the town for supplies, the idea is to build a specialised high school that will produce sufficient numbers of “graduates” that posses the basic technical skills to get them employed in the agricultural sector in the surrounding villages. In addition to this there ought to be a thorough research on the agricultural potential of each region with regards what type of crops will be suited for planting or what type of livestock will best thrive in that geography then entrepreneurs and investors must be targeted who are willing to invest in those businesses. These entrepreneurs must also be provided with the necessary support to ensure that they succeed.

The third stage towards solving the urban migration and rural underdevelopment challenges will be the development of infrastructure that is necessary to support viable enterprises in the locality, this means that the rural areas will have roads, electricity and infrastructure that is closer if not the same as the cities and this will be sustainable as you then have employed people and businesses that are paying taxes that can be used for maintenance. The last and final step then will be to integrate the businesses in the rural areas into the main stream of the economy. This will be by assisting them to gain market access of their products in the nearby cities and even in other provinces etc. As an example there is no reason is to why Sun City which is located in Rustenburg should be purchasing its supply of eggs[1] from a farmer located somewhere in Limpopo, whereas a local enterprise could be providing that supply and creating local jobs and subsequently development and thus curbing the rise of urban out migration. When the businesses in the rural spaces have an active and bigger role in the mainstream of the economy that by implication means that they will be aiding in the further development of cities as there will no longer be a need to import certain agricultural produce such as the lettuce I once heard a friend complain that it was being imported from the United States.

Finally there are currently other strategic issues of global importance that present an opportunity for agriculture. This includes issues such as participation in cleaner fuel technologies where some crops can be produced specifically to be used as feed stock for bio-fuel plants in the large industrialised cities or even countries. There are also lots of opportunities in the export market with the advent of food insecurity looming to the extent that the UN secretary general has set up a high level task force to look into the issue. This clearly demonstrates that there is potential for the agricultural sector in particular in the rural areas to assist South Africa to continue on the trajectory of economic growth and global influence in a balanced and equitable manner however the solutions will not fall on our heads they require a lot of work, political will and total commitment to succeeding.


[1] Suncity consumes about 5 million eggs a day.

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Joel Maine

Joel Maine is a full time minister, scholar and a part time business consultant. In his spare time he enjoys working with community development organizations to improve the lives of the less fortunate. It is his deep conviction that it is the time for African's to make an impact in the world and take a leadership role in all spheres.

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