Economic Transitions in South Africa’s Secondary Cities: Governing Mine Closures

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Economic Transitions in South Africa’s Secondary Cities: Governing Mine Closures


  • Lochner Marais Sustainable Minerals Institute, University of Queensland, Australia / Centre for Development Support, University of the Free State, South Africa
  • Verna Nel Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of the Free State, South Africa
  • Kholisa Rani Centre for Development Support, University of the Free State, South Africa
  • Deidré van Rooyen Centre for Development Support, University of the Free State, South Africa
  • Kentse Sesele Centre for Development Support, University of the Free State, South Africa
  • Phia van der Watt Centre for Development Support, University of the Free State, South Africa
  • Lyndon du Plessis Department of Public Administration and Management, University of the Free State, South Africa


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Abstract:  Many South African secondary cities depend on a single economic sector, often mining or manufacturing. This makes them vulnerable to economic change and national decision-making. We describe change in three secondary cities—Emalahleni, Matjhabeng and Newcastle—all at different phases of economic transition due to imminent mine closure. We investigate the way local governance and planning are dealing with the change. We draw on concepts from institutional economics and evolutionary governance theory, material from strategic planning documents, and approximately 50 key informant interviews. We show how difficult it is to steer economic planning during economic transitions, and we demonstrate how both economic change and governance are path-dependent. Path dependency in South Africa’s mining towns has several causes: the colonial influence, which emphasised extraction and neglected beneficiation; the dominance of a single sector; the long-term problems created by mining; and the lack of the skills needed to bring about economic change. The local governments’ continuing reliance on the New Public Management paradigm, which focuses on steering as opposed to building networks, compounds the problem, along with poor governance, inadequate local capacity and inappropriate intergovernmental relations. Of the three towns, only Newcastle has shown signs of taking a new path.

Keywords:  economic transition; path dependency; secondary city; steering; New Public Management; mine closure

Published:   25 June 2021


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v9i2.4032


© Lochner Marais, Verna Nel, Kholisa Rani, Deidré van Rooyen, Kentse Sesele, Phia van der Watt, Lyndon du Plessis. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.