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Submitted by Maikel Lieuw-Kie-Song on
Thanks for a nice piece that was recommended to me. Most of what is said makes sense to me having lived and worked in various sectors in South Africa for ten years. And having moved to Brazil four years ago, has given me much room for reflection and comparison on some of these issues. (And your photo the bicycle repair shop hit a nerve as one thing I tried was to set up a network/ franchise of bicycle shops in townships and rural areas in SA). With regard to the difficulties of fostering competition and the weak informal sector- my sense is that the effects of the way the economy is structured spatially are still not fully understood- but I suspect they are far greater than we realize. And I am referring to both apartheid township/ banstustan separation from economic centers, as well as the settlement patterns within townships and bantustans. This settlement pattern, consisting of huge areas of single story detached housing structures kind of resembles the "suburbs"- and replicates many of the disadvantages associated with suburbs: relatively large distances, low catchment for businesses and public transport, car dependency, poor public spaces and costly services. I think it is a terrible settlement pattern for fostering small businesses (and a drive through a suburb in the US tend to confirm this view?) So if want to set up a business in a rural or township area you not only have to find a way to make it work in a "suburban area", but you are also far removed from the things a business needs: markets, suppliers, credit, security, innovation and others who are running successful businesses you can learn from etc. For me this is one of the big differences I see with Brazil where the small business sector appears to be doing much better. Of course anybody who has seen some of the favelas in Brazil knows that some of these spatial dimensions also exist here- but at least the favelas are high density and the separation from economic centers are no where as severe and entrenched as they are in SA. I guess my point is that that much more research work needs to be done on the effects of the spatial structure of South Africa and what the options for "spatial restructuring" of South Africa would look like (And government should stop building "RDP" housing using this costly suburban settlement pattern!)