An exploration of revitalization strategies for rural areas : the case of the Northern Free State
Meyer, Daniel Francois
MetadataShow full item record
Rural areas, globally, are characterized as poor regions, with two-thirds of the world’s poor people residing in rural areas. In South Africa, 70 percent of the poor population or 3.6 million households, live in rural areas. In the last three State of the Nation Addresses (SONA) in South Africa by President Zuma since 2011, rural development has been placed high on government’s developmental agenda. The formulation of a comprehensive rural development policy, with coordinated implementation by all spheres of government is however still lacking. This research project was undertaken to explore solutions for the revival and development of rural areas in South Africa. The northern Free State region was selected as the geographical focus area and “testing ground” for the research. Rural South Africa has been deteriorating over the last few decades mainly due to globalization and urbanization. Two specific tools to achieve accelerated rural development were identified and analysed namely, local economic development (LED) and spatial planning. The research has shown that rural development is a complicated and difficult process. It is not only about agriculture and economic development, but also about other aspects such as spatial planning, social development, the environment, politics and public management aspects. For the purpose of the research, the theoretical statement was stated as “the chronic state of underdevelopment, poverty and unemployment, especially in rural South Africa, with a specific focus on the northern Free State, can be turned around by means of the implementation of revitalization strategies, which include innovative policies and programmes of LED and spatial planning”. Rural development requires strong committed local leaders and “champions”, skills, patience and funding. The research methodology included a comprehensive theoretical analysis of the concepts relating to rural development, as well as global and local case studies. Local rural development policies were also analysed as currently being implemented by government. Primary research included a community socio-economic survey in the study area to determine levels of rural poverty, unemployment, services delivered by local government and skills. In this survey of poor rural areas and the socio-economic analysis of the northern Free State, it was found that: • close to 50% of all households were living in poverty, • 50.7% of all households lack employment, • 40% of households have an income of less than R 1 500 per month, • The average annual household income in the area relates to just less than R20 000, • The ratio between formal and informal jobs is 1: 0.25, which indicates a low level of informal job opportunities, • Most job opportunities are found in agriculture, manufacturing, community services and households. • The tourism sector only provides in 3.1% of the regional GDP. Local business chambers were also visited in order to determine their perceptions of rural development and local government as well as the level of partnerships with the various local authorities in the area. It was found that partnership formation and cooperation between local business chambers and local authorities in the region were limited, although business chambers are willing to cooperate and assist. Rural development needs a coordinated effort and partnerships between government, business and communities. The focus of the research was on the finding of possible solutions for rural development. Solutions such as a rapid rural assessment (RRA) and a strategy for the study area, which has been provided to the specific local government for implementation, have been formulated. Globally and locally no universally accepted definition of rural concepts such as rural development and rural regions exist. Definitions and classifications of rural areas were formulated for South African conditions. A major component of the research is the proposed rural development model known as the “Feza iSimangaliso” model. Pillars for rural development and best practice aspects for rural development were also formulated. Some of the main findings of the research regarding general rural development aspects are listed below: • Rural regions are slowly but surely becoming in “fashion” as popular regions again due to a number of reasons such as quality environments, the need for a sense of community and belonging and food security. • Well formulated strategic rural development strategies, which are implementable in a coordinated way, can make a positive impact. Rural areas could be seen as a viable alternative, but requires strong governance, especially at the local sphere. • The integration of spatial planning and LED could lead to accelerate rural development, especially when national policy exists and are implemented in a coordinated manner. • The creation of jobs will lead to improved quality of life. Labour intensive sectors of the economy such as tourism, agriculture including agro-processing, manufacturing and retail should be the focus of an economic strategy. • Rural development is dependent on hard and soft infrastructure provision and strong local government. • Rural development must be people centred, with the utilization of local indigenous knowledge. • Rural towns are critical for rural regional development and creation of rural-urban linkages. • The “pull factors” to rural areas include quality of life and environment, sense of belonging, unique culture and history, and a positive economic environment. Future research projects could include more detailed research on the study area and provision of assistance to the relevant local municipalities. A possible rural development matrix will be developed for the evaluation of the level of development and gaps in the development of a rural region. In conclusion, successful rural development planning must be based on strategic planning principles for implementation in order to prevent ad hoc implementation of isolated projects with limited impacts.