Socio-economic Research in the Karoo


In the Karoo, the bulk of socio-economic research was done in the 1970s, when several key reports and theses on socio-economic issues were completed. Significantly, this research involved the University of the Free State and Rhodes University, and it is only apt that a new partnership is created on these foundations. These reports include the 5-volume Midlands-Karoo (“Mid-Kar”) study, done by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at Rhodes University)

  • Gillian Cook, Towns of the Cape Midlands and Eastern Karoo (1971)
  • ML Truu, Human Resources in the Karoo (1971)
  • JB McI Daniel, A Geographic Analysis of Farming (1975)
  • JJ Badenhorst, A Geographical Study (1971)
  • Jesmond Blumenfeld, The Economic Structure of the Cape Midlands and Karroo Region: A sectoral and spatial survey (n.d.).

In addition, several theses were completed under the auspices of the University of the Free State:

  • W.A. Ferreira, Makro-ekonomiese Struktuurveranderings in die Sentraal-Karoo (1972, MSC Agric)
  • C.S. Blignaut, Die Plaasprobleem, met besondere verwysing na die Sentraal-Karoo (1972, PhD, Agriculture)
  • W.J.H. Vrey, ‘n Demografiese Sosiologiese Studie van die Blanke Bevolking in die Sentraal-Karoo(Instituut vir Sosiale en Ekonomiese Navorsing, UFS, 1974).
  • C.F. Le Clus, Dienssentrums in die Sentraal-Karoo (Instituut vir Sosiale en Ekonomiese Navorsing, UFS, 1974).

A further study, under the auspices of the University of Stellenbosch, was done by P.J. Eloff, Sentraleplekverval in die Sentraal en Westelike Karoo (MAGeography, 1978).

These studies provide valuable baseline information to assist in longitudinal studies of changes in the Karoo. Given the strong role played by Rhodes University and the University of the Free State in the past, this programme proposal envisages a partnership between them in future. Other than these studies, the knowledge base on the Karoo and surrounding arid areas remains patchy.

There have been several studies of specific towns. The most recent is Saul Debow’s study of 17th Century Graaff-Reinet (“Land, Labour and Merchant Capital”, UCT, 1982). Another scholarly study of Graaff-Reinet was done by Kenneth Wyndham Smith (From Frontier to Midlands, ISER, Rhodes, 1976). Other town-based histories have been written on Philipstown (1963), Edenburg (1963), Jansenville (1956), Steytlerville (2003), Philippolis (2005), Victoria West (1959), Bethulie (1963), Cradock (1964), Griekwastad (1981), Koffiefontein (1991), and Sutherland (1986). These studies provide a valuable record of local history, but they tend to be anecdotal.

In addition, there have been numerous church histories. Examples are Bethulie (1963), Fraserburg (1951), Reddersburg (1985), Fauresmith (1998), Philippolis (1962), Steynsburg (1976), Laingsburg (1982), Douglas (1997), and Trompsburg (1998).

In addition to these historical studies, there are four other notable categories of historical works. Firstly, there was the 1932 Carnegie study on the “Poor White Question” (which also included some valuable information on rural black communities). Secondly, there have been several works about the Griqua community, including the NP Government’s Presidential Council report on Griqua land claims (1983). Thirdly, there have been several early studies on Karoo agriculture, notably H.D. Leppan’s The Agricultural Development of Arid and Semi-Arid Regions, with Special Reference to South Africa (1928). Fourth, there are numerous histories of notable Karoo farming families.

This progress on the ecological research front urgently calls for socio-economic, demographic and political research to be done, so that genuinely interdisciplinary research findings can be generated. Such research will be critically important for municipalities, provincial governments and other development bodies in the region.