LED Programme: Small Towns Development Initiative (STDI)


The STDI was a collaborative national effort between the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), the AHI and was supported by Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH with clear links to the local and regional sphere. It aimed at supporting strategic economic development work and cooperation between local government and local business chambers located in specific small towns. The expected outcome of this partnership initiative included improved collaboration and dialogue between private and public stakeholders in selected towns, the identification of catalytic projects, the development of a shared and common vision for the local area, the promotion of local leadership and the sharing of learning and knowledge.

Programme Background & Rationale

Despite the significant progress in service provision across the South Africa, small towns have been fraught with development challenges. Some of these include:

  • Infrastructure maintenance neglect as a result of a shift in service priority areas, the prioritization of backlogs, and national perspectives on regions and cities as the main centres of economic growth.
  • Irregular service provision especially in the area of waste removal, road maintenance and town upgrading and management of commonage.
  • “Uneven” (or unequal) development in favour of previously advantaged areas where infrastructure is readily available and easily maintained. The opposite also holds true where development takes place in outer-lying informal settlements and townships at the expense of maintenance and upgrading of infrastructure in former “white” towns.
  • Unhealthy competition amongst towns for goods and services as opposed to collaborating around shared services and joint initiatives
  • A substantial leadership void which is further exacerbated by a shortage of skilled, technical experts who could assist both the public and private sector with strategic tasks.
  • The exclusivity and gate-keeping that takes place in local planning forums and structures. IDP which is meant to be the overarching strategic plan for local government and which is meant to be derived at in an inclusive, participatory and integrated manner does not always represent the interest of the wider community.
  • Political challenges make it un-conducive to mobilise civil society as well as the private sector around common economic development objectives.
  • Addressing many of these challenges could encourage a re-focused interest in local economic development and ultimately elevate the plight of small towns in strategic national debates.

Role of GIZ

The initiative was supported by Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in the context of the Strengthening Local Governance Programme (SLGP) through the provision of technical expertise and project support. GIZ placed an advisor at the AHI to assist with the development and management of the project.

How the STDI is  structured

The participating stakeholders established a steering committee comprising of DCoG/ COGTA, AHI, and GIZ. Steering teams were also established in the respective towns made up of specific local support partners.

The selection of Towns

The Steering committee selected six possible towns to support in this initiative. The objective was to start with a selection of towns with significant best practice and learning potential and which could highlight key lessons on developmental public-private collaboration  in municipal areas. Representatives within the towns assisted with defining technical support criteria for small towns in South Africa.

The intention was also to build a portfolio of success stories for small town development while at the same time highlighting the preconditions for successful town development and partnerships needed to create meaningful change in these areas. Towns which were selected include:

  • Bela- Bela,
  • Graaff-Reinet,
  • Malelane,
  • Upington,
  • Harrismith and
  • Greater Tzaneen LM.

Our approach

The steering and project management team’s approach was to work in collaboration with local stakeholders to harness local potential. Our aim was to provide support to local initiatives as opposed to driving initiatives from a national level.
Since small towns operate within a broader regional and provincial context, the steering team saw it as crucial to include and partner with provincial and local partners. These included: Regional and Provincial AHI members and other chamber partners where applicable (e.g. Nafcoc) provincial LED champions, District Municipalities, Local Economic Development Agencies, the IDC, and other partners.


The aim was to contribute to vibrant local town economies with continuous engagement and joint responsibility for planning and implementation between the public and private sector.

Expected Outcomes

Taking into account the contextual factors affecting small towns, this collaborative initiative had five  strategic pillars:

  1. Dialogue for change between community, state and the private sector;
  2. Finding common ground amongst partners by identifying a joint vision for the town and facilitating  process of strategy development towards implementation
  3. The identification of quick wins and catalytic projects. Such as the development of a marketing brochure for the town, signage, provision of information on events and plans, etc.
  4. The promotion of local leadership where local leaders are identified supported and actively participate in the development of the town.
  5. The documentation and management of learning

Current Status

Some activities since May 2010 include:

  • The facilitation of Pre-dialogue and dialogue sessions in selected towns.  In 2010 dialogue sessions commenced in Bela –Bela, Graaff Reinet, Harrismith.
  • The appointment of a GIZ advisor to support the STDI (based at AHI)
  • The commissioning an intelligence assignment that looks at:
  • The state of small town development in SA
  • Local Town intelligence profiles based on desktop research, geospatial data and selected interviews with key stakeholders.
  • The establishment of a working relationship with CACADU DM, DBSA/ LEDI and regional AHI champions  on support to Camdeboo LM
  • The establishment of a working team in Bela Bela
  • The initiation and execution of a Leadership development training programme in Bela Bela- funded by British Council
  • The commissioning of a facilitation assignment linking non-formal and formal sector businesses in 3 selected towns
  • The finalisation of project documentation.
  • Presentation on initiative at DCoG’s national Conference on Small Town Regeneration, East London, Oct 2010


Contacts and further information


DCoG Project Manager Small Towns: Alfred Leogabe

Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

E-mail: alfredL@dplg.gov.za

Tel: (+27) 012-334 4966;


Project Advisor AHI: Josef Neumeier

Email: josef@ahi.co.za

Tel:    (+27) 012 348 5440;

Fax:   (+27) 012 348 8771


GIZ Advisor Partnerships and LED: Faith Lawrence

Email: faith.lawrence@giz.de

Tel: (+27) 012 423 5963

Theoretical Knowledge

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Practical Knowledge

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