Nel, E, Hill, T, Taylor, B and Atkinson, D (2007), Rural and Urban Dynamics in the Eastern Cape Karoo A preliminary investigation over 100 years.
Arid and semi-arid areas are often considered environmentally and economically marginal which has been exacerbated by economic realities, shifts in agricultural production and land use, policy implementation and general perceptions of the regions. This paper explores these themes with reference to a semi-arid landscape collectively referred to as the Karoo region, covering approximately 20% of the geographic space of South Africa and used primarily for extensive livestock farming. Despite a long-term decline economic declines, particularly in terms of agricultural output which reached a head in the 1970s, the demographics of the region, and that of the largest service centres in the area in particular are growing. While there are very real socio-economic needs and development backlogs, the situation has been exacerbated by the reality that the area has been politically marginalized. The small towns of the area are focal points of investigation and provide a lens into the economic dynamics of the area in the sense that most of the region’s population live in these centres which are the key service, collection and distribution centres for what traditionally has been an agriculturally based regional economy. By the 1970s structural decline had set in and while recent trends suggest a selective and partial reversal of fortunes, in many rural districts and small towns, little seems to have improved since then. The Karoo spans the boundaries of four provinces, which have no defined response to dealing with the Karoo and its challenges. In addition, national governments see urbanization to the larger cities as inevitable, and have no complementary rural / small town development strategy which makes areas such as the Karoo underprovided for in terms of urban services. This paper provides background details regarding the Karoo, associated economic and demographic changes and policy neglect to explore the concept of marginalisation within the region.