New economic geography theories predict that historically densely settled areas also become more industrialised. Industrial agglomeration has therefore cultivated spatial inequalities in all parts of the world. South Africa presents an interesting case study, where institutional failures interrupted the ‘usual’ agglomeration process. On the one hand, current day metropolitan regions are located in historically densely populated areas. On the other hand, apartheid-era homelands also had highly concentrated populations, but did not industrialise to the same extent as other parts of South Africa. Much earlier in history, following the mfecane, these locations attracted migrants in search of favourable agricultural conditions and physical security in the face of conflict (they were high rainfall, rugged areas). The benefit of settling in these areas, however, only remained prior to imposed restrictions on land ownership (1913 Land Act) and movement of people (during apartheid). This paper decomposes modern spatial inequality, and establishes that agglomerations and historical institutional failures explain large proportions of spatial inequality. Furthermore, the homelands wage penalty reverses once these controls are introduced into various models: had agglomeration taken its course without institutional constraints, the homelands would likely have developed into high paying local economies. While new economic geography theories hold in the urban core, the densely populated former homelands did not follow this trajectory. Spatial inequality is therefore more severe than it would have been had institutional failures not prevented the former homelands from industrialising at the same pace as other historically densely populated areas.
Von Fintel, D.P., 2018. Long-run spatial inequality in South Africa: early settlement patterns and separate development. Studies in Economics and Econometrics, 42(2), pp.81-102.