The Spatial Concomitance of Former Bantu Universities with Uneven Regional Development in a Democratic South Africa

Johannes Tsheola


The salience of universities in regional development has increased with the ascendancy of corporatization of public utilities, especially given the pre-eminence of the notion that these institutions create and enforce “learning regions” wherein knowledge generated is used for the enhancement of economic productivity and innovativeness. Under South Africa’s state capitalism, most state-backed corporations have literally gobbled public funds, insisted on increased autonomy and behaved like private multinational companies, whilst their regional development impacts remained inconclusive. A reasonable geographic perspective should hold that, notwithstanding the effects of globalization, universities’ regional development impacts are strongly “attenuated over space and distance”. In this context, a democratic South Africa’s restructuring of the higher education system should raise vexed questions of the regional development impacts of the former Bantu Universities. Given the significance of knowledge and research to regional development, this article concludes that Limpopo and Eastern Cape Province as well as Northern Cape and Mpumalanga Province, which are in the process of establishing their first universities, will continue to lag behind Western Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and North West Province. It argues that the heightened public financial support to former Bantu Universities will remain a public opportunity-cost because these institutions’ orientation, as per their apartheid spatial-fix, is not amenable to the establishment of “learning regions”. The article concludes that under state capitalism former Bantu Universities are denied their traditional contributions to the viability of informal businesses, simultaneously as their potential capacity to create and enforce “learning regions” remains virtually non-existent. Given the spatial-fix of the racially-inspired higher education landscape, the article concedes that corporatization of public utilities under democracy needs to be supplemented by deliberate state effort to build knowledge transfer networks with local and extra-local universities in a structure that deliberately embeds the less favoured regions and foster the spirit of innovation therein.

DOI: 10.5901/mjss.2014.v5n20p863

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Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences ISSN 2039-9340(Print) ISSN 2039-2117(Online)

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