Annual Forum Papers

Reflecting on South Africa's post-apartheid experience with spatially informed economic development programmes

  • Year: 2008
  • Organisation: School of Development Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • Author(s): Glen Robbins
  • Countries and Regions: South Africa

The South Africa that emerged from the 1994 democratic elections was one characterised by widespread poverty and inequality with an economy that was suffering the effects of macro-economic mismanagement.  The root causes of these problems were seen to have originated from within the distorted policies of a highly centralised apartheid state. Under these circumstances, combined with the recognition that the new post-apartheid provincial and local spheres of government were still finding their feet, nascent national economic policy frameworks did little to diagnose spatially differentiated elements that might have added some geographic sensitivity to their programmes.  This was true for how policies responded to spatial differentiation with areas of significant economic activity, as well as in relation to zones of exploited underdevelopment that had been at the core of the Bantustan system.  However, the launch of the DTI's Spatial Development Initiatives (SDI) in 1997 heralded something of a shift in thinking towards some measure of recognition of the benefit of more spatially differentiated national policies and programmes.  This brief paper seeks to explore the manner in which subsequent policies and programmes – emerging primarily from the Department of Trade and Industry – responded to matters of spatial differentiation.  The paper finds a lack of any serious engagement in such policy frameworks and programmes and makes some suggestions as to why this might be problematic and how possible responses could be conceived of.