A Survival Strategy for Small Towns in South Africa: The Role of Economic Functioning Versus Identity

Prof Izak Johannes Van der Merwe
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The growth and decline of towns is an international phenomenon that is addressed in different ways in various countries. Certain economic functions offer more opportunities for growth and prosperity than others. A town that has exhausted the reason for its existence will of necessity stop growing and stagnate or decline. The development of most towns in South Africa however, is rooted in their role as service centers for surrounding agricultural environment (Central Place towns). These towns usually also develop an unique place identity. The aim of this paper is to identify development potential of the rural small towns in the Western Cape Province of South Africa and to link this to the sense of place concept. Further, to understand the observed growth tendencies by ascertaining qualitatively the underlying economic base and unique identity of the respective urban places. The key question, then, is how to create economic growth and quality of life in these small towns. These concepts are also related to the 'sense of place' experienced in each town. The extent to which an urban place developed an unique identity or spirit that differentiates it from other towns is an important gauge to the cultural values and well-being of the local community. This encourage a sense of belonging and personal identification with a specific town amongst its inhabitants. In the Western Cape study the dominant economic base and place identity of each town was established enabling a better understanding and appreciation of the various settlements economic development and liveability potential. It may happen that although a specific town's economic potential does not warrant further infrastructure investment from the government, its unique sense of place merits preserving it as an asset to the region. A 130 towns were structured according to their respective development and human need rankings, as well as their economic base categories and their sense of place character.

Keywords: South Africa, Small town dynamics, Economic development, Sense of place
Stream: Ethnicity, Difference, Identity
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Prof Izak Johannes Van der Merwe

Research Fellow, Director of Institute for Cartographic Analysis, Department of Geography, University of Stellenbosch
South Africa

Professional Affiliations: 1981 - Member of the Editorial Committee of the Israeli academic journal "Geography Research Forum". 1984 Recipient of the Stals Prize for Geography by the South African Academy for Science and Arts. 1991 Award as Fellow of the South African Geographical Society. 1993 Member of the official Task Group of the Negotiation Council on The demarcation of provinces in South Africa. The country's present post-apartheid nine provinces are the result of this exercise. 1995-97 President of the Society of South African Geographers. 1998 Visiting Professor, Institute for Territorial Planning at the University of Ancona, Italy. 2003 C2-rating of the National Research Foundation. Field of Academic Expertise: (Research and teaching). Urbanization and urban problems in Southern Africa. Socio-cultural and language patterns. Regionalism and boundaries. Higher Education Change and Structures. Publications: Academic experience manifests in 50 scientific articles in South African and international accredited journals. Author/co-author of 15 books and atlases and 12 research reports. Approximately 2 academic papers annually at national and international conferences during the last ten years

Ref: H05P0535