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Padayachee, Vishnu (2006) Progressive Academic Economists and the Challenge of Development in South Africa’s Decade of Liberation.. Centre for Civil Society  Colloquium on the Economy, Society and Nature:: 1-23.

Progressive academic economists2 have played a significant role in support of the efforts by anti-apartheid social, labour and political movements to develop alternative economic policy ideas and strategies for post-apartheid reconstruction. But that role has also been a changing, dynamic and complex one. This paper examines the relationship between these progressive academic economists and the anti-apartheid social movements in the period that has come to be known as South Africa’s decade of liberation, roughly the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s.

The paper begins with a brief background on the role of intellectuals in processes of social and political change before the mid-1980s. I then examine the interaction of progressive economists with social movements in South Africa since c1985. This interaction occurred in the main via policy research networks and think-tanks such as the Economic Trends Research Group, the Industrial Strategy Project and the Macroeconomic Research Group. Thereafter I examine the role that these academic economists played in the formulation of the Reconstruction and Development Programme, the RDP White Paper and the Growth, Employment and Redistribution Strategy.

The following section sets out the major trends in the relationship between progressive economists and social movements over the decade of liberation. I then attempt to provide some tentative answers to the controversial and complex question of why many of South Africa’s progressive economists, underwent a sea-change in their economic thinking by the mid-1990s. My argument, in essence, is that South African academics and intellectuals (like many elsewhere) are far from independent; they are the creatures and creations of their time. This means that their positions depend upon their shifting circumstances and the demands placed on them. Ultimately, the explanation for the change in economics thinking rests on the politics of the transition itself, although other factors may contribute to explaining why the shift was so extreme and so pervasive.

In the penultimate section I advance some thoughts about the role that progressive academic economists could play in contemporary South Africa in relation to social movements and the institutions of the democratic state, before concluding briefly.

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