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Differential urbanisation in South Africa – a further exploration

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Work in the field of differential urbanisation in South Africa was first done in the late 1980s. The South African studies prompted further research in this field which subsequently led to the development of the differential urbanisation model. The model explains how groups of small towns, medium–sized cities and large metropolitan areas go through successive periods of fast and slow growth in a continuum of development that spans the evolution of urban systems in developed and developing countries. In this study an attempt was made to further test the relevancy of some elements of the model within the South African context. Looking at population redistribution trends from different angles, the study results show that the conclusion drawn during the first two studies, namely that the South African urban system seems to have approached the polarisation reversal phase of development during the 1980s was in fact correct. The study also shows that caution should be exercised when applying the model to actual case studies. The temporal model (graph) refers to an ideal situation where urban areas are evenly distributed in an area with relatively evenly distributed natural endowments. In real life it is important that local circumstances and the history of urban growth and decline in the growth patterns of groups of cities be carefully taken into account when the phase of development of an urban system is considered. In the South African situation, for instance, it appears that the country entered the polarisation reversal phase twice, once during the 1950s and again during the 1980s. It was found, however, that what appeared to be polarisation reversal in the 1950s can be interpreted as a particular form of urbanisation.

Keywords: Differential urbanisation; counter–urbanisation; developing countries; migration; polarisation reversal; urbanisation

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Potchefstroom University, Republic of South Africa

Publication date: February 1, 2003

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