The Journal of Modern African Studies

Beyond the development impasse: the role of local economic development and community self-reliance in rural South Africa 1

Tony Binns Senior Lecturer in Geography a1 and Etienne Nel  a2
a1 School of African and Asian Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK. BN1 9SJ (e-mail:
a2 Department of Geography, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, 6140, South Africa (e-mail:


The failure of successive generations of imported, Western development strategies and projects to deliver meaningful reductions in poverty and achieve basic needs in Africa, has provoked a deep questioning of Western concepts and methodologies of development. Non-governmental organisations and development practitioners are increasingly focusing their attention on strategies which build upon local knowledge, skills and resources. The concepts of ‘self- reliance’ and local economic development are examined in the context of development challenges which face Africa. This is followed by a detailed case study of local economic development in the rural Mpofu District of the former Ciskei Homeland, which was incorporated into the Eastern Cape province of South Africa with the demise of apartheid in 1994.


1 The financial assistance of the Human Needs, Resources and Environment programme of the Human Sciences Research Council in South Africa is gratefully acknowledged. Views expressed are those of the authors and not the Human Sciences Research Council. The cartographic assistance of Debi Brody of Rhodes University and the co-operation of the residents of the Kat river valley are also acknowledged.