Public policy and small towns in arid South Africa: The case of Philippolis

Jurie van Niekerk and Lochner Marais

Internationally and in South Africa, small towns have been subjected to several external factors leading to their decline, with decentralisation processes placing increased pressure on them to develop locally based responses to these external realities. However, very little academic research has been conducted on the impact of national and sub-national public policies on small towns. Instead, the emphasis has tended to fall on policy frameworks and formulas which can be applied in blanket fashion across different settlement types. South African developmental policies have made no provision for coherent socio-economic developmental support strategies aimed at the more than 500 small towns and the numerous struggling local governance structures, which are virtually all fighting for long-term sustainability. This research is based on a review focusing on selected social, economic and governance policies. The aim is to investigate both the influence of some of these policies and the impact of their implementation in the context of the small town of Philippolis. It will be argued that these policies have not benefited Philippolis and/or that they have been applied inappropriately within this small town. Finally, a number of general recommendations will be made, along with certain policy-related considerations.

The international literature suggests several external factors have impacted significantly on small towns and that these have led to decline in such towns (Collits 2003; Davies 1998; Bollier 1998; Hinderink and Titus 2002). These factors include declining demographics as a product of history and geography; volatile world commodity markets, particularly within communities that have traditionally been dependent on mining, fishing and traditional agriculture; and other external pressures affecting the stability of small-town community life—growing environmental concerns; rapid changes in technology; changing lifestyle options and consumer habits; low income and rising debt levels; general decline in education and health services; national competition policy and practices; deteriorating infrastructure; and high family-related and business costs.

van Niekerk, J. & Marais, L. (2008). Public policy and small towns in arid South Africa: The case of Philippolis. Urban Forum, 19, 363-380. doi: 10.1007/s12132-008-9043-8 

Journal article
Closure, Other
South Africa
Public policy and small towns in arid South Africa: The case of Philippolis