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  • The Fate of the Eastern Cape: history, politics and social policy by Greg Ruiters
  • Bill Freund (bio)
Greg Ruiters (ed) ( 2011) The Fate of the Eastern Cape: history, politics and social policy. Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press

This collection is devoted to chapters based on life in one province, largely contemporary takes on development issues although with some historical material. These chapters include widely-published authors such as the historian Jeff Peires, who considers the relative historic decline of the Eastern Cape, Patrick Bond on the Coega harbour project, Lungisile Ntsebeza on the historic imposition of chiefship on a corner of the Transkei, and Ashwin Desai on a phase of labour relations at Volkswagen South Africa (VWSA) in Uitenhage. Most are critical of local and national authorities and highlight unresolved problems. Some expose issues that have obtained little national prominence such as land reform efforts on the periphery of Queenstown by Luvuyo Wotshela and the (largely negative) impact in the Kouga district of the minimum wage for agricultural workers by Gilton Klerck and Lalitha Naidoo. They certainly showcase the extent to which the Eastern Cape has been the site of important research. Most of the researchers, such as Greg Ruiters himself and his successor Robert van Niekerk as director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research, are employed by or have a link to Rhodes University which continues to be an important generator of social science thinking in the country.

However, it is less clear whether the volume really lives up to its portentous title. Does the Eastern Cape really have a distinctive fate? As Ruiters points out, it is only in the context of CODESA and pressure from the old ruling party that the Eastern Cape, despite its genuinely distinctive nineteenth century history, was born as a new province and separated from [End Page 132] the old Cape of Good Hope as part of a semi-federal dispensation. The old Cape was much the biggest South African province. The Eastern Cape by itself is very large, almost the size of the American state of Texas. The stereotype tends to see it as an extension of the rural Xhosa-speaking Bantustans Ciskei and Transkei. However this is inaccurate. As Ruiters points out, the province is highly diverse. A large part of the land area of the Eastern Cape was part of the old white South Africa; Graaff Reinet and Uitenhage were actually founded late in the period of VOC rule and the province has a significant Afrikaans speaking population. Moreover, it contains two populous urban areas designated as Metros, effectively Port Elizabeth and East London, and a significant industrial presence. There are big differences internally in human development indicators with low incomes in the poorest regions somewhat mitigated through the national government presence and the social grant system.

Ruiters sees the province as a kind of landmark case of administrative failure characterised by extreme poverty and mismanagement. Of that there is certainly plenty. However, it is less clear that some kind of provincial reordering would do anything to solve this problem, let alone some kind of reunification of the old Cape. The differences in living standard within the province between the former black and white areas alone show that provincial ordering does not determine today’s social and economic differentiation. The attractive gentrification initiatives in Port Elizabeth Central augur nothing at all for improvements and amenities in Mthatha or Lusikisiki. The key resources that come from the state may filter through the provincial structures but do not originate with them. The problems Ruiters and his team emphasise recur at the municipal level but also find resonance especially in ex-Bantustan areas elsewhere in South Africa, even in the Free State with its heavy black majority. Could bringing in personnel from Cape Town or Johannesburg remedy the situation and would it be accepted? The feuding ANC factions of the Eastern Cape will be very hard to dislodge.

What is rather defining the growing national pattern of spatial inequality are the plus factors in a limited number of selective places by contrast to most of the country: the distinctive dynamism of the Western Cape on the one hand...


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pp. 132-134
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