South Africa’s ‘unknown metropolis’ had a historic start, but it now has to bear the twin albatrosses of unemployment and an increasing population.

The future of the East Rand is of national concern. This region forms the historic heart of South Africa’s manu­facturing economy but, in re­cent years, manufacturing has stagnated while the region’s population has grown.

The crucial challenge is to generate economic growth and jobs for a growing population. Without sustained economic growth, the region faces a bleak future.

In 1994 the East Rand com­prised 22 local authorities, from Alberton to Kempton Park­-Tembisa to Nigel‑Tsakane. It is home to 2,5 million people, has a formal sector economy worth R66‑billion and sustains 628 000 job opportunities largely pro­vided by 33 000 registered em­ployers. It is South Africa’s un­known metropolis.

The East Rand is South Africa’s historic workshop, the heart of South Africa’s manu­facturing economy Most jobs are in manufacturing (metals production, metal working, chemicals, food and beverages, packaging). Just over half of its gross geographic product is from manufacturing compared with the country’s 24%. Manu­facturing is complemented by the air transport, rail, ware­housing and telecommunica­tion sectors.

Unemployment is very high, some estimate 40%. A rapidly growing, often unskilled, popu­lation faces a shortage of jobs and a shrinking of the metals cluster which has provided up­ward mobility for generations of workers.


Today, the region faces two new challenges.

First, the Government’s new economic approach, GEAR, could lead away from manufac­turing inland towards the coastal metropoles; second, other cities are better placed to compete for new investment. Many now have metropolitan ­wide economic strategies, more effective governance structures for co‑operation across the ur­ban region and a better image with respect to crime, violence and general business climate.

Research indicates, despite stagnation, the economy of the region can be revived. It has shown signs of vigorous life. Steps towards the revival can­not be postponed indefinitely

If real opportunities for growth are to be grasped, the region will have to improve its low status and attractiveness as a place to do business. At pre­sent it fails short in several cru­cial areas.

The area is institutionally fragmented. Individual towns compete rather than co‑operate. Despite the integrated nature of the area’s manufacturing‑based economy, centred on clusters of competitive and interlinked companies, individual city gov­ernments do not seem to un­derstand the advantages of co­operating. Such rivalry often inhibits a whole area’s ability to respond to challenges.

The local government elections held in 1995 have greatly changed the shape of the East Rand with far‑reach­ing consequences.

In one development Eden­vale, Modderfontein; Kempton Park and Tembisa have chosen to hive off and create a new metropolitan area, the Iffiay­alami Transitional Metropoli­tan Council. which stretches to Midrand and incorporates much of the most dynamic parts of the area’s economy

The other remaining towns have amalgamated with their associated townships, forming new transitional local authori‑
ties, falling under the Eastern Gauteng Services Council, which now also has jurisdic­tion over a large number of far­flung rural councils.

The region is also socially divided, with enormous differ­ences in social and economic conditions. Large‑scale infra­structural initiatives such as the Katorus Presidential Pro­ject, while helping improve so­cial conditions, do little to ad­dress economic viability

The considerable public re­sources (R3‑billion) being put into this historically deprived area constitute a once‑off gift which must be used to maxi­mum effect. Infrastructure de­velopment and service delivery must be viewed through the prism of economic growth if they are to provide sustainable steel ladders for the future.


Can the Katorus Presiden­tial Project really be successful without an effective economic strategy for the region?

The East Rand lacks a cohe­sive business grouping con­cerned with its social, eco­nomic and political welfare. East Rand business leaders rarely comment on the econ­omy or future of the area and do not seem to identify whole­heartedly with the East Rand.

Although some of the rea­sons for this are understand­able, it is nonetheless puzzling. It is hard to envisage the sus­tained development of world ­class companies from a region in economic and social decline. Despite a few well‑meaning efforts, there is little strategic understanding of the East Rand’s economy, its place within the dynamics of the broader provincial, national and international economies and the area’s true sources of competitive advantage.

Ironically for an area eco­nomically based on what are distinctive clusters of manufacturing and distribution in­dustries that cross municipal borders, there is absolutely no shared vision for the region.

Compounding this is a dearth of information and data, the lack of leadership from any quarter and a lack of social glue, the infrastructure for social collaboration.

Crime and violence, with social inequalities and poverty, form an interlocking spiral that seriously compro­mises the ability of the area to compete as a metropolitan economy. Consequently, the im­age of the East Rand (among in­vestors, managers, the media) is negative. Positive factors are overshadowed by the negatives.

There are real opportunities on the East Rand. The area has under‑utilised physical infra­structure (think of its freeway system), plenty of vacant, in­dustrially zoned land, and a trained industrial workforce, much of it in small and medium‑sized firms already linked to large companies.

Here exists much latent en­trepreneurial possibility. As a place to live it has many posi­tive characteristics: low hous­ing prices, good recreational amenities, open spaces and good shopping facilities.

A new strategic vision for the East Rand is urgently re­quired. This vision must be de­veloped within the context of national and global competi­tion, and could be built around the revival and strengthening of the area’s manufacturing ­based economy.

  • Ann Bernstein is the executive director of the Centre for Development and Enterprise