South Africa: Local Economic Development in the Wild Coast, 1997-2007

The Wild Coast falls within the South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province and is a relatively undeveloped coastal strip with huge eco-tourism potential. The Wild Coast Spatial Development Initiative (SDI) in this area was one of nine in South Africa set up by the government as a way to kick-start local economic development through small and micro enterprises (SMEs). 

Location of the Wild Coast region in South Africa.

In 1997, in collaboration with the Eastern Cape Socio-Economic Consultative Council, a CIET baseline survey measured employment, empowerment, incomes and access to services in the area.* In 1999 a second cycle of this survey tested views and perceptions around SMEs among Grade 12 learners in 28 schools in the SDI. The baseline study was repeated again in 2000 and in 2004 to measure changes in socio-economic conditions in the SDI region.


Neither the 2000 or the 2004 impact assessments found significant evidence of development in the Wild Coast SDI since 1997.  Apart from an increase in access to piped water and a reduction in unofficial payments for health services, there was little community evidence of development over this period. Residents reported decreasing knowledge of the SDI and there was no increase in numbers considering small business ownership. In the investment-intensive ‘anchor’ areas, as in the SDI as a whole, there was no significant increase in employment, and more households received remitted incomes from migrant workers. In an SDI for small businesses in tourism and agriculture, there was a dramatic fall-off in food production. No more households had loans in 2004 than in 1997, but more were taking loans from loan sharks. Results of these impact assessments have been published in: Mitchell, S. Andersson N, Ngxowa N, Merhi S. A community-based impact assessment of the Wild Coast spatial development initiative, 1997–2004. Development Southern Africa 2008; 25(1): 119-132. For more information go to: