The resilience of some small towns in the Karoo

A new article in the Journal of Arid Environments (see reference below) examines the ‘Small Town Paradox’ in eight small towns in the Eastern Cape Karoo. Normalised data (enterprise numbers per thousand residents) and estimates of enterprise richness were used in the comparisons. Willowmore, Steytlerville and Jansenville outperformed Aberdeen, Hofmeyr, Steynsburg, Venterstad and Pearston in terms of total enterprises per 1000 residents as well as enterprises per 1000 residents in the tourism & hospitality services and agricultural products and services sectors. In fact, in some measures these towns even outperformed the larger towns of Graaff-Reinet, Cradock, Somerset East and Middelburg. Over some seven decades, the enterprise richness of Willowmore, Steytlerville and Jansenville increased (like those of the larger towns) whereas the enterprise richness of the other five small towns decreased. Hausmann et al. (2017) postulated that productive knowledge is a main determinant of the wealth/poverty of nations. I think this is also true for towns and used enterprise richness as a proxy for the levels of productive knowledge in the towns.

The resilience of towns is now a hot scientific topic. It refers to the ability of towns to respond successfully to adverse changes. Some do it well and some not; hence the ‘Small Town Paradox’. The decline of agriculture, particularly wool farming, in the Karoo stressed many Karoo towns. The study was done to determine if resilience was present in the Eastern Cape Karoo. It was.

The article demonstrates two important issues: 1. There are useful measures whereby the strengths/weaknesses of the entrepreneurial development of South African towns can be compared. 2. Productive knowledge is probably an important component of the resilience of South African towns.


Toerien, DF (2018) The ‘Small Town Paradox’ and towns of the Eastern Cape Karoo, South Africa. Journal of Arid Environments. Available free of charge for a limited period at:

Hausmann, R, Hidalgo, CA, Bustos, S, Coscia, M, Chung, S, Jiminez, J,  Simoes, A & Yildirim, MA. (2017) The Atlas of Economic Complexity: Mapping Paths to Prosperity. Center for International Development, Harvard University.

Fragmentation of South Africa: Is the ANC succeeding where the NP failed?

Remember, South Africa as a unitary state is a recent experiment and the verdict on its success or failure is still to be determined…” These words by Lawrence Schlemmer, one of the foremost analytical minds in SA during the latter quarter of the 20thC are today far more relevant than when he uttered them in 1996 when we were enjoying a drink whilst waiting at the late Jan Smuts Airport on delayed flights. Having just read Jacques Pauw’s The President’s Keepers I was starkly reminded of Lawrie’s words.

Lawrie Schlemmer

South Africa is unravelling…

I had the privilege of meeting Lawrie when he was a strategy advisor to the Urban Foundation in the years 1987 onwards. His sharp intellect and wit made him an impressive debater. He was totally independent – apart from his utter dependence on nicotine.

Continue reading “Fragmentation of South Africa: Is the ANC succeeding where the NP failed?”

Of people and enterprises in South African towns

Western CapeOrderliness in enterprise development in South African towns has been observed as statistically significant correlations between different characteristics of South African towns. One of the first correlations noted was a statistically significant positive relationship between the population of South African towns and the number of their enterprises. This was observed in the Free State, the Northern Cape, the Western Cape (see graph) and the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve. In fact, towns in the Eastern Cape Karoo exhibited such relationships over a period of a century. One can conclude the relationship is ubiquitous in South Africa. Continue reading “Of people and enterprises in South African towns”