Address By The Premier Of The Northern Cape, At The Karoo Small Town Regeneration And Regional Economic Development Conference De Aar

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The Chairperson;
The Executive Mayors and Mayors present;
The Anchor partner in this initiative SALGA;
Officials from all Spheres of Government;
The various entities and state institutions present;
Members of the Scientific Community; and
Private sector and Civil Society role players;

Ladies and gentlemen:

Let me hasten to state that I wish to declare the support and endeavour of the Northern Cape Government to fully support this initiative of the “Karoo Small Town Regeneration and Regional Economic Development.”

We thus put the weight of our being towards imploring you, to make this second Karoo Small Town Regeneration Conference a success.
The National Development Plan calls on us to collectively strive to build resilient, sustainable and inclusive rural economies. The vitality and reduced vulnerability of the rural economy and its people is depended on the strength of small towns and their economies.

Since the election of the Fourth Democratic Government, led by President Zuma in 2009; rural economic development has been one of the five strategic priorities of government. This was once again re-affirmed in the Medium Term Strategic Framework of Government of 2014 – 2019.

This Small Town Regeneration and Economic Development venture is an initiative that must thus be lauded from all the quarters for its relevance and innovation.

The spatial history and reality of South Africa, including the quest to build a more sustainable World in the context of climate change, makes the Karoo, given its rural landscape; a good choice. It is a vast region decorated by small towns with a lovely tapestry of history and visual landscape. It can further be defined as follows:

  • The Karoo straddles the three provinces that carry the nucleus of the modern history and heritage of modern South Africa; the place where our early forebears intersected and were copied by the railway lines that converged at this point of our gathering;
  • It is the place where some of the earliest wars of dispossession and nation formation were fought; in the process forging its diverse inhabitants;
  • It is home to some of the most modern of human inventions such as the SKA and Mega Solar Energy projects and the rudimentary lifestyles that our people have lived since time immemorial. It can therefore be defined as a place where civilizations have always converged over the ages and
  • In it is sadly also posited the hopes, anxieties and fears about the sustainability of prospective generations;

Ladies and Gentlemen, all of us will find something new and a great deal of familiarity in this vast region that we call the Karoo. It has for generations been a place for small beginnings and big hopes, especially for its permanent inhabitants.

This hour of our destiny has placed this marvellous place and its magnificent historical small towns; including their townships and rural communities in our hands.
These small towns serve as the entry to the markets for the farming communities. For many of our people in the rural hinterland and farming communities’, small towns are the only primary point of service.

This are the same farming areas from which the food that we eat is produced. It may therefore be said that the small towns cradle the food basket for the urban and large cities of our country. It is a common reality the World over. Therefore, as populations migrate to the Mega – Cities it means we have fewer people to refill the food basket for a rapidly growing population.

The irony of it all is that in some of these communities; it is where our people are worst affected by food scarcity. The current economic climate threatens to increase the socio-economic vulnerability of these communities.

From the perspective of the creation of a developmental state, that works in concert with all role players in service delivery and development, the question of an inclusive growth path for the ordinary people is cardinal. The success of the developmental state depends on the extent to which we address spatial and demographic inequality.

Societies that have successfully leaped frogged from underdevelopment to highly developed states as developmental states first addressed their social inequities.

The poverty levels in rural communities reflect the levels of inequity that persists in our society.

The intervention of the small town regeneration should thus be appreciated as an attempt to improve the resilience of affected communities. It is an attempt to socially transform society by promoting inclusive development and shared prosperity. This is not just a stop gap measure.

You are part of tipping the scales in favour of building sustainable communities in our small towns.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this initiative that draws from the goodwill, duty and collaborative mind-set of the various stakeholders gathered here today is thus Godsend to the people of the Karoo.

I thus stand here to welcome and assure you, that you have the full support of the Northern Cape Provincial Government. This is indeed an initiative that we will love to embed in the workings and deliberations of our Intergovernmental Forum and other platforms, to make continuous contributions and thereby ensure it succeeds.

I have already noted a number of areas of convergence with ongoing work that we are doing in the Northern Cape Provincial Government. Such as the work that the SALGA National Task Team has done on the socio economic profiles and trends of towns in the Karoo in partnership with CSIR.

We are currently in the process of developing our Provincial Growth and Development Plan – 2030. We are simultaneously initiating the process of reviewing our Provincial Spatial Plan, working together with various partners some of whom are present here today.

A key aspect of the review of the Provincial Spatial Plan is the envisaged study of the Economic Potential of Towns in the Northern Cape.

I am thrilled by the prospect of these interactions based on the skills and expertise that SALGA has been able to muster under one roof, with a singular purpose. Whatever, the lessons learned and observed in the Karoo, these would surely be transferable given the fact that our province is an interwoven web of small towns.

Ladies and Gentlemen; small towns are the pathways to the livelihood of hundreds of our people in the Karoo and across the Northern Cape. Yet these are also the places that are most affected by our current economic pressures that have persisted since the 2009 global recession.

The continued economic decline of the livelihood of small towns due to economic decline and lack of opportunity produces unsustainable demographic trends.

It undermines in-build community based social systems, since it is the young and learned who tend to migrate outward because of lack of opportunity. The old, unwell and too young are thus left to scrape through every day in ways that the promise of democracy sought to wipe away.

The economic decline, lack of skills and entrepreneurial opportunity for young people who reside in the small towns contributes to them being unable to exploit the demographic dividend. It is known that most of the people of our province are young and should thus be energetic to seize the moment. The demographic dividend favours them as a generation. However structural factors limit their ability.

I further wish to take this opportunity to throw caution to the wind by stating the following. Recent studies done by the South African Cities Network and others reveal that urban renewal initiatives have sometimes contributed to the economic displacement of the original inhabitants. Often the economic opportunities that are envisaged do not benefit them.

In other situations, property prices rose to such an extent that that the local community found it increasingly impossible to own property, further pushing them to the margins.

The pricing out of the poor is a question that must be in the mind of developers, developmental local governments and our developmental state as a whole. These are some of the realities that we must be alive to even in the context of the regeneration of small towns.

The people of small towns and the farming communities around them constitute social capital that has enabled these societies to sustain themselves and thrive in the past. This initiative must thus prioritise the people in these communities, it must be people centred.

Ladies and gentlemen, this in itself has negative long term effects on the larger towns and cities as their systems are threatened by the vast influx from the outward migration from small towns. The influx to the major cities and big towns is an unsustainable outcome of the decline of small towns and their economy.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this gathering is framed as a report back session, of what would surely have been an engaging exercise from the last time this conference convened.

It is primarily about the presentation of the hard work of the past year. The research that will enable us to develop collaborative and evidence based strategies is eagerly awaited. Given our own process of developing Provincial Growth and Development Plan of the province, we have a keen interest in the work of this Conference and its ultimate goal. We will take the opportunity from the side of the provincial government to share our work with you.

Let this be a model for the regeneration of small towns in South Africa, from these same lands that have played a defining role in shaping the history of our country and our common destiny.

A South Africa united in its diversity, free from racial and gender oppression and with shared prosperity across the class, race and gender divide.

I thank you


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