Profiling Intermediate Cities in South Africa

In 2012, the South African Cities Network (SACN) released its first publication on intermediate cities, Secondary Cities in South Africa: the start of a conversation. Since then, the debates and policy discussions have expanded rapidly, and four main changes have occurred:


  • The term “intermediate cities” replaced “secondary cities”. Official government documents now refer to intermediate city municipalities (ICMs), as South Africa has wall-to-wall municipalities. In this report, the term ICM refers to a municipal area, not only to the urban built area.
  • Municipalities identified as ICMs have increased from 21 to 39, which has resulted in the introduction of several subcategories.
  • An ICM support programme is underway and is similar to the programme for metros, the City Support Programme. The World Bank initially supported the development of an ICM support programme.
  • The Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (DCoG) introduced the Integrated Urban Development Grant (IUDF), which has the strategic goal “to support spatially aligned public infrastructure investment that will lead to functional and efficient urban spaces and ultimately unlock growth” (South Africa, 2020).


Following the first publication, the SACN published four further reports on ICMs.

ICMs are firmly established as a critical component of South Africa’s government policy. After providing an overview of policy development and the changes in the classification of ICMs in South Africa, the report analyses the socio-economic and institutional characteristics of the ICMs. Comparisons are made between the different classifications of ICMs and between ICMs and metropolitan areas to highlight the different profiles of ICMs and the differences between ICMs and metropolitan municipalities, 1 with the aim of enabling the classification system to build on these differences. The report concludes with a summary of the findings and the implications thereof.