A Survival Strategy for Small Towns in South Africa: The Role of Economic Functioning Versus Identity
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
Prof Izak Johannes Van der Merwe
Research Fellow, Director of Institute for Cartographic Analysis, Department of Geography, University of Stellenbosch