Towards an alternative planning strategy for small town development : the case of Pongola in northern Kwazulu-Natal.
The study is concerned with economic restructuring and its effects on small towns. A small town, Pongola, has been chosen to illustrate how economic change affects small agriculturally based settlements. Local economic development (LED) is then suggested as one approach to address some of the problems that exist in places like Pongola. What motivated me to undertake this study is that many of the problems that exist in South Africa's big cities and large towns emanated from the fact that small towns and rural areas are generally neglected by national government. One problem that needs to be mentioned here is that of hyperurbanisation. This problem has been caused by the neglect of rural areas leading to overly rapid rural-urban migration. Whilst urbanisation per se is not a problem, urbanisation in excess of the absorption capacity of cities. Rural areas account for 40% of the total population of South Africa yet the pattern of rural settlement, for a variety of historical reasons, has been distorted. There is massive rural overcrowding in some areas, to the point where ecological collapse is imminent (Dewar 1994). In other areas, the essential social and service infrastructure necessary to support a vibrant local agrarian economy is declining steadily. The result is an ongoing contribution to hyperurbanisation: people who are involuntarily displaced from the countryside move to towns and cities that are growing at rates that outstrip the ability of the urban systems to deliver jobs and services. A main challenge in the new political and social dispensation is to target these areas that have been disadvantaged in the past and which are now the source of major problems for the country as a whole. As many urban areas are experiencing major plant closings and more retrenchments in the context of global economic competition, it becomes imperative to consider developing small towns and their rural hinterlands. Planning analysts like Dewar, McCarthy, Rogerson and Nel, have all commented that rural areas have a potential, that of available land, which could be used to address some of the problems. They also call for the social, economic and urban reconstruction of small towns. This study does not intend seeking a solution to all agricultural and rural problems. However, after looking at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of this particular case study, I will suggest that local economic development (LED) is an alternative planning strategy that could be used to address some of the problems of small town development. Although LED has its own short-comings, it has the advantage of using local comparative advantage of a particular locality to create jobs and achieve economic growth. It therefore avoids trying to resolve problems of small towns by diverting growth from other areas as it happened for example, with the old Regional Industrial Development Programme. This dissertation will look first at global economic restructuring and its effects on localities. Secondly this study will discuss the restructuring of commercial agricultural production, looking specifically at the implications of this restructuring process for workers in agriculture, and will also look at some processes that have brought about this transformation and the phenomenon of declining small towns. Thirdly, this study seeks to explore in the literature that is available what other South African small towns, have done to address problems that exist in their localities. Stutterheim will be used as an example of a local development initiative with apparent considerate success, although a recent study disputes this. Finally, this study seeks to use alternative interpretations of local economic development (both locally and internationally) as a bases for draWing policy recommendations for Pongola. Another general concern is to explore how Pongola is responding to problems of decline.