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Population change in the Karoo

Published in: African Journal of Range & Forage Science
Volume 35, issue 3-4, 2018 , pages: 203–208
DOI: 10.2989/10220119.2018.1529705
Author(s): Trevor HillSchool of Agricultural Earth and Environmental Sciences, Discipline of Geography, South Africa, Etienne NelCollege of Business and Economics, South Africa


In common with arid and semi-arid areas worldwide, South Africa’s Karoo has experienced significant population shifts over the last 100 years. These have been caused by a range of considerations related to advances in farming technology and changing labour needs, transport improvements, environmental considerations and contextual economic variables. This paper pays attention to how, in the twentieth century, these factors catalysed net population loss in the Karoo’s rural areas but population gain in all categories of urban settlement, particularly the larger centres. An exception to this was the phenomenon of ‘shrinking towns’, which became discernible in the late twentieth century. In the twenty-first century the process has become more complex, as small towns’ decline has now been reversed and all towns are now attracting rural and inter-regional migrants in the post-apartheid years. We comment on the potential causes, nature and effects of these variations in the Karoo, and discuss the key role of these towns as they reflect the dynamic socio-economic and environmental shifts witnessed in the region.

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