Vol.2 No.10, 25 April 2002

Making and Unmaking Poverty in South Africa

Adapting urban industrial illusions to rural socio-economic realities

Cecil Cook

Cecil Cook is a Harvard educated anthropologist who has taught in universities in the USA and SA. In the early 1980s he headed up a small team which created the Transkei Appropriate Technology Unit (TATU, now ECATU) in the Eastern Cape province. In 2001 he prepared a major paper, extracts from which are presented below.

In his paper Cook puts forward the idea that the new economics required to launch the New SA into modest prosperity and full employment are in fact the old economics of local self reliance.

A full length paper may be obtained by e-mailing a request to: [email protected]

Cook asserts that the massive poverty which has accumulated in the rural and peri-rural areas of the Eastern Cape is a direct result of the imposition of INAPPROPRIATE FIRST WORLD STANDARDS AND APPROACHES from the over-developed urban industrial centers of the country upon rural and peri-rural communities.

The paper describes and contrasts Western style urban industrialism, mass consumption, and a commodity centered definition of affluence with a more Afro-centric approach to rural and peri-rural revitalization characterized by meaningful work for all.

It is asserted that low tech/low cost approaches to the development of rural and peri-rural communities can deliver 5 to 10 times more benefits per unit of investment than is possible in the urban industrial zones of the country.

The paper concludes with proposals for a massive Rural Revitalization Programme as the only affordable rational alternative to abandoning 40 to 50% of the population of the country to perpetual unemployment and poverty. The hard, perhaps even desperate, work of the coming decades is to adjust the First World illusions to the realities of an environmentally and economically constrained national economy.

Cook takes the position that unless more economically realistic development standards are adopted by all the major players involved in the struggle for development, the majority of South Africans will remain trapped in poverty.

Some assertions from Cook's paper are quoted below.

"An appropriate approach to the solution of any development or technology problem is the solution that generates the most benefits on a sustainable basis for the greatest number of people in the shortest period of time for the least cost. "

" ... a development disaster occurs when all of the money available is spent on solving less than 20% .... of development problems."

"The First World Conventional solution is - on average - 5 to 6 times more expensive than the appropriate response to the same development challenge (in a Third World rural economy). "

" ... the South African economy and its Northern partners lack the brute finances required to replicate a Western style urban industrial system in this part of the Third World ..."

"... on average appropriate development technologies, standards and approaches are +/- 6 times less costly than First World ones."

"In the struggle to create a full employment economy in the new SA, the huge multi nationals .... are lacking in both interest and capacity to efficiently turn scarce investment capital into .... low cost, employment intensive jobs."

"It is very roughly estimated that some $1 billion worth of Dollar constant Rands was spent .... by the previous government of SA on the Transkei .... +/- 50 000 jobs.... were created .... at a relatively very high cost of +/- $20 000 per job.) "

"If one takes a radical Appropriate Technology perspective, it is possible to contend ....transfer payments made by the RSA were probably more than enough to stimulate and sustain a full employment .... in the (Transkei) economy."

" .... the failure common to Separate Development, the RDP and GEAR is a ... recurrent unwillingness .... to concentrate on the least cost/maximum benefit approaches to development."

" .... it is possible to create a total pattern of sustainable livelihood .... in a rural or peri-rural community for between 1/5th and 1/10th the cost (in an urban area)."

"Just because 40% or more of today's rural residents desperately want to 'urbanize' themselves does not mean that the public sector will have the funds needed to meet their .... needs"

"Every rural family which is assisted with public funds to stabilize themselves on the margins of a high cost over developed urban industrial zone is in effect depriving +/- 5 families .... in radically lower cost rural zones from receiving similar assistance ...."

"... the present practice of the ANC led government of the new SA to run after the people migrating from their rural homes .... is doomed to economic failure."

".... systematic under-development of the rural zones and over development of the urban zones has created the present day exodus of rural residents into the cities."

"It is 'guesstimated' that 75% to 80% of development capital ... has been invested into the urban and peri-urban zones where today perhaps 35% to 40% of the population resides ..."

" ... only by re-allocating 30% to 40% of the development capital of the national economy will the New SA regain control over its social and economic future."

"Unless the rapid collapse of rural communities is arrested and reversed, it is only a matter of time before the hungry, ill housed, under education and unemployed citizenry of SA - trapped half way between the rural and urban zones of civilization - will cause the metropoles to collapse into chaos of apocalyptic proportions."

"It is the author's view that the Government of South Africa will be committing economic suicide if it continues to use its limited Development Rands .... to create jobs in the urban and peri-urban zone in a futile effort to accommodate the growing tidal wave of new migrants from rural areas."

"It is economic madness not to provide .... these necessities in their own communities, where the cost of providing these necessities is 1/4th to 1/8th the cost of delivering them in urban zones."

"Once rural communities have been assisted to awaken from .... dependency and defeat, .... then a massive reverse migration (may) gradually take place from urban to rural zones or settlement."

"If the managers and technocrats .... cling to 'traditional' norms and standards of Euro-American civilization, then they condemn 50% to 70% of the population of the New SA to permanent entrapment in the 'have not' underclass."

"It is the thesis of this paper that South Africa will never possess the brute resources of money, know-how, technology, and resources required to incorporate the emerging South African rural and peri-urban underclass into the 'traditional' First World mainstream."

Back to previous

© South African New Economics Network 2006. Page generated at 17:13; 24 September 2006