Metropolitising in South Africa's peri-urban. The case of Sedibeng Municipality

Essay, 2016

18 Pages, Grade: 80%


Metropolitising in South Africa's peri- urban: The case of Sedibeng Municipality by Inolofatseng Lekaba

The beginning: Metropolitising or logical urban progression?

Metropolitising as a deliberate process of creating a metropolitan space from a non­metropolitan city, town or even peri-urban space is often viewed as politically driven. In the global south, metropolitan cities are recipients of significantly larger spending budgets and metropolitan councils can thus wield more political power in the form of monetary power. In South Africa, the development trajectory of cities stems from political ideologies and policies of the political party with an outright majority. In this regard, metropolitising or the mere development of any area within the jurisdiction of a municipality is a political process. Similarly regionalism is a political process that seeks to wield the most financial power through the amalgamation of different economic powerhouses to form a single economic, spatial and political superpower.

In addition to the current politicising of metropolitan city development, historically, apartheid spatial planning was a political system of social engineering based on spatial segregation. The resultant space economy is that of heterogeneity and unequal benefaction from development processes. This spatial differentiation, including the complexities pertaining to economic and institutional systems, further complicates the process of metropolitising in South African cities.

In this regard, this essay will critique the efforts of Sedibeng District Municipality in its metropolitising bid through examining its proposed scalar economic rescaling plans for the Vaal River City, while proposing institutional reforms that could aid its ambitions. The second section of this paper will highlight the limitations that hinder smaller cities’ and towns’ efforts of becoming metropolitan cities. These limitations stem from an unequal space economy that reproduces itself through ineffective policies and neoliberalisation of urban governance structures and systems.

The endowments of Sedibeng District Municipality

The Sedibeng District Municipality is the southernmost Category C municipality in the Gauteng province; with three local municipalities of Emfuleni, Lesedi and Midvaal. It is bordered by municipalities in the Gauteng, Free State and North West provinces with two Metropolitan neighbours of City of Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni in Gauteng. The Sedibeng municipal area does not contain any major towns and cities but however houses small towns such as Vereeniging, Meyerton, Heidelberg and Vanderbijlpark (Sedibeng District Municipality, 2016). The district is characterised by sluggish development with most areas within its jurisdiction described as ‘sleeping towns’.

A report by the Mckinsey Institute identifies five areas of development that can ensure economic growth which can translate into human development. These are advanced manufacturing; infrastructure productivity; natural gas; service exports; as well as raw and agricultural exports (McKinsey Global Institute, 2015). The Sedibeng District Municipality is in a position to pursue three of these priority areas; the advanced manufacturing, infrastructure productivity and processed agriculture (Sedibeng District Municipality, 2016).

Moreover, in light of the directive provided for by the Institute, Sedibeng has modelled its development trajectory to be based on an electronic and techno park; transportation hub; construction equipment hub; iron and steel beneficiation cluster; an agropolis; and a tourism city. The electronic, techno park is expected to create an agglomeration of electronic manufacturing companies in the region. The expected stimulus to be derived from the techno park is the growth of a knowledge economy in the region; small business development; and growth in the export of electronic goods. The rationale behind the transportation hub is to increase accessibility to firms located in the municipality’s jurisdiction and initiate the integration of townships and peri-urban spaces into the greater Sedibeng area. Economic growth in the municipality is anticipated to be driven by the agropolis and tourism city. It is often argued that the region is dominated by agricultural activities and as such, the municipality seeks to capitalise on this base economy through the beneficiation of local resources and investment in the processing of agricultural produce. The rationale for intensification of the tourism sector is based on the close proximity of the district to the Vaal River and Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve (Sedibeng District Municipality, 2016).

However, the district municipality contends that there are challenges that might hinder its development as directed by the McKinsey report and the development goals of the 2016/17 Integrated Development Plan. These challenges include the economic exclusion of township residents; low-skills base; lack of catalytic project implementation; insecure energy and water sources; the decline of the steel and manufacturing economic base; low marketing of the district which leads to decreased investment interest; and lack of future planning for infrastructure development (Sedibeng District Municipality, 2016).

These challenges are compounded by the economic structure of many areas within the district. It is seen that areas to the east of Sedibeng are largely rural with an agricultural base economy. Urban spaces are concentrated in the west with economies based on steel production; however, a decline in steel production has been recorded and the ongoing drought is severely impacting the agricultural sector. The tourism and agro-processing sectors play a menial role in the economic development of the district as a result of the poor marketing of the tourist attractions and low industrial development (Sedibeng District Municipality, 2016).

Conversely, it must be stated that the district has elements that can advance its ambitions of economic diversification and perhaps becoming a hydropolis. The most critical of these endowments is the district’s proximity to major road networks that serve to connect it to the rest of the region and national nodes. These include the N1 toll-road, the R59 in the West and the N3 in the East. A significant number of major routes that intersect the area connect the northern and southern regions and converge on the City of Johannesburg jurisdiction; while regional arterials radiate out from the commercial nodes of Vereeniging and Heidelberg. Other major routes including the R29, N17, R42, N1 can be optimised in order to connect historically marginalised areas to areas with greater economic activity for access to employment opportunities (Sedibeng District Municipality, 2016).

Sedibeng has other physical advantages that can boost its development trajectory. The vast amounts of vacant land provide for property development opportunities as well as agriculture and tourism potential. The district’s close proximity to the provincial economic hub can result in economic diversification. In this regard, the municipality has collaborated with the provincial government and the private sector to ensure the development of the Vaal River City. The hydropolis is anticipated to unleash the economic and tourism potential of waterfront projects in the Midvaal and Emfuleni municipalities. Conversely, the agriculture potential is to be realised through supporting black farmers in the area; the provincial government has partnered with private players in order to provide support to thirty two black maize and barley farmers (Sedibeng District Municipality, 2016).

In addition to physical attributes, Sedibeng boasts a young population with the potential of driving new development and innovation if cultivated. It is seen that the largest population group in the district is those falling within the 25-44 years age category, making up 31.0% of the total population. The second largest population group is the economically inactive group of the 0-14 years’ age category with a total share of 27.6%. As attempts to harness this youth potential, the district has set up Youth Advisory Centres in all three local municipalities within its jurisdiction. These centres provide services that empower the youth in regards of career guidance, entrepreneurship development, employment readiness, job application processes, basic computer literacy, and financial management skills and provide free internet access (Sedibeng District Municipality, 2016).

To be or not to be? Metropolitisinq and the associated economic rescaling Economic diversification through agro-processing and tourism

Sedibeng aspires to become a metropolitan river city that is also the ‘food basket’ of the Gauteng City Region. However, metropolitan cities often negate issues of large scale agricultural production to focus more on other economic activities that are in the third and fourth economy. Although the character of Sedibeng is more of a small town, these are equally important for regional development as metropolitan cities because they have direct links to the rural vicinities. This implies that the development of Sedibeng is a necessity for rural development as it possesses certain functions that link rural areas with metropolitan and other urban areas, it also absorbs the rural population that migrate into urban areas (McKibbin, et al., 2012).

Moreover, for Sedibeng to escape this role of the interface between rural areas and metropolitan regions and into being a metropolitan space itself it needs to diversify its economy. The district seeks to establish itself as an agropolis with the intensification of agriculture product processing (agro-processing). The Agro- processing industry is a division of the manufacturing sector and it serves to process raw and intermediate products from the agricultural sector as well as the fisheries and forestry (Speirs, 2015). It is an economic sector identified by various national economic growth policies including the Industrial Policy Action Plan that is anticipated to expand exponentially and create employment opportunities due to its strong link to the agricultural sector. It is seen that agro-processing plants need to locate close to the source of the raw materials as they use of large volumes of inputs with relatively low value and high cost of transportation (Urban-Econ, 2012).

In addition, the labour composition of the industry as it stands is largely semi-skilled and unskilled labour with a dominance of informal employment in the beverages, textile and clothing divisions. The focus on establishing the agro-processing industry as a key economic player will thus transform the industry from a significantly informal to a formal space. Although this shift will increase industrialisation, food security and quality, export trade and overall economic development, it is also anticipated to displace the informal sector (Henson & Cranfield, n.d.). This can be detrimental to the entrepreneurial ventures in the industry as Williams (2014) argues that it is not all forms of employment that is waged employment in the informal sector; a significant proportion of workers in the informal sector are self-employed with an estimated 70% in Sub-Saharan Africa alone.

Thus for an agro-processing industry that will ensure inclusive economic development, the Sedibeng district must embrace informality in the sector. Investment in agro-processing plants will attract more semi and unskilled labour into the district and the labour market must be able to absorb this group. Moreover, Ofreneo (2013) argues that the failure of agriculture industrialisation contributes to the expanding informal sector with the semi-skilled and unskilled labour moving on to self-employment for survival. In this regard, it can be argued that agricultural industrialisation should enable the development of small to medium entreprises in both the formal and informal sector; protection of informal workers and be concentrated to yield the desired large scale effects.

Indeed a study by Thindisa (2014) found that the exclusion of small scale farmers in agro-processing is largely due to the lack of human capital, social capital and funding.


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Metropolitising in South Africa's peri-urban. The case of Sedibeng Municipality
Planning Design
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Metropolitan planning, regionalism, agro-processing and tourism, peri-urban development, urban planning, south africa
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Inolofatseng Lekaba (Author), 2016, Metropolitising in South Africa's peri-urban. The case of Sedibeng Municipality, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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