It’s amazing how many towns outside the major cities are broken, falling apart or dysfunctional.
I was excited to see that the 2019 NAMPO conference in Bothaville addressed this issue in one of their discussions titled “Reviving the Platteland”.
Even as I write this I see that what was once the quaint town of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape (renamed
Makhanda) is calling for rescue after having been gutted and looted by corrupt politicians.
However, there are other factors that are reducing the viability of small rural towns.
Some say that an important one is the lack of investment by large businesses that open their chain stores in these towns, suck out money from town folk, but do not invest in them.
Of course, their argument is that they invest through their corporate social investment programmes — however this is often charity and doesn’t get to the root causes of economic development. What is needed is real economic investment in local infrastructure education and entrepreneurial enterprises.
And we are not talking here about property developers scalping family homes in rural towns, reselling them at exorbitant prices and pushing out the locals. New marauders or investors? We want vibrant communities in small towns not merely retirement villages.
Well, what do you think the solution is?
More local investment by the mass chain organisations, public-private partnerships, improved economic planning at a town level?
On my visits to small towns in the Western Cape and the Northern Cape I have found that not every one is suitable for tourism. Some have natural features that are tourism assets but others have little of interest and are far away from main roads (of course not so for the more adventurous traveler).
The agricultural community used to support these towns but agriculture itself has changed, is modernizing and is not exactly the same type of labour-intensive operation of yesteryear with mechanization and digitisation — and more technology to come.
We can learn — all of us — about the successful towns which have rebounded after virtual collapse and now make a healthy living environment for all inhabitants.
Even city dwellers are well aware of suburbs that fall apart and become slums.
What does it take to revive the dead and dying?
Will resuscitation come too late for some towns which may fade away over time and become ghost towns like Kolmanskop in the Namibian desert?