Reflections on South Africa, from an economic history perspective

Johan Fourie is professor of Economics at Stellenbosch University.

I teach economic history to undergraduate and graduate students and writes frequently on the topic, either by contributing to research or for a more popular audience, as columnist and blogger.

My greatest wish is to be cited in a Nobel lecture, preferably by one of my students.


Fourie, J. and Greyling, J., 2023. Wheat productivity in the Cape Colony in 1825: evidence from newly transcribed tax censuses. Agrekon.
Fourie, J. and Garmon Jr, F., 2022. The settlers’ fortunes: Comparing tax censuses in the Cape Colony and early American republic. The Economic History Review.
Martins, I., Cilliers, J. and Fourie, J., 2022. Legacies of loss: The health outcomes of slaveholder compensation in the British Cape Colony. Explorations in Economic History.


Minister Enoch Godongwana has the unenviable task of trying, as best as he can, to improve the lives of ordinary South Africans through #budget2024. Yet the truth is that there is little that the Minister or his Ministry can do about the real challenges facing our economy.

Link in bio.

#midjourney prompt: A simple low-detail vector graphic of a construction site in a South African township with isomorphic blue branding colours and a flat white background
My @stellenboschuni students and I will read 60 economic history papers this semester. Join us.

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#midjourney prompt: In the golden warmth of a late afternoon, within the confines of an industrial loft, an African historian is immersed amidst thousands of papers that chronicle the transformative eras of the Industrial Revolution and the impacts of colonialism.
Undergraduate classes at South African universities start today. It is an exciting time for many students, especially for first-year students.

But below the surface, South African universities are in turmoil.

In this post, I reflect on the Four Horsemen that are on the doorstep, threatening the sustainability of one of the oldest institutions: financial, political, ideological and technological.

Will universities be able to save themselves?

Link in bio.

#midjourney: The Four Horsemen of the University – financial, political, ideological, and technological – advance ominously towards the viewer. Each horseman, distinct in colour, wields a symbolic weapon: financial instability brandishes a gold-tipped scale, political strife raises a tattered flag, ideological conflict clutches a double-edged sword of words, and technological disruption holds a lightning bolt of circuitry. The artist, known for apocalyptic themes, employs a dark, stormy palette to evoke a sense of impending challenge and upheaval.
'We can avoid our seemingly inevitable descent into more economic misery.'

So says André de Ruyter, former #Eskom CEO, in a new series where I interview business intellectuals.

The first five questions are open to all free subscribers. Link in bio.

In this wide-ranging interview, I ask De Ruyter about where he would go if he was given a one-time-use time machine, whether there is a new Cold War brewing between the USA and China, what #SouthAfrica can learn from JFK's focus on technological advancement, and much more.

#midjourney prompt: André de Ruyter in 3D #steampunk fantasy animation style, reimagined with #victorian industrial flair, where #Tesla coils and brass machinery intertwine with symbols of their legacies.
Who was the first bergmeester of Simonsberg? Who made a daring escape from Lanzerac in 1837? At which residence did Robert Kennedy deliver a compelling speech in 1966?

Discover Stellenbosch's secrets in this historic town guide with a twist!

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(Special mentions: @boschendal, @babylonstoren, @lanzeracestate, @stellenboschuni, @stellenbosch_fc, @matiesrugby, @devrijeburger, @stud.burger, @dewarenmarkt, @deluxecoffeeworks, @mood_coffee_co, @basic.bistro, @stellenbosch_kitchen, @plato.coffee, @vanrynsbrandy, @simonsbergresidence, @matiesalumni, @stellenboschmuseum and more) 
#midjourney prompt: The most exquisite wine bottle, made of solid silver, packaged in a beautiful Yellowwood case intricately carved with motifs of the Cape Dutch architecture and local vineyard landscapes. Embossed with patterns inspired by the unique flora of the Cape Winelands. Purple grapes, fynbos, and proteas add to the opulence of the image.
@javier_mejia_c writes about the lessons violent societies can learn from Colombia.

Link in bio.

#Midjourney prompt: Combining Fernando Botero and Nelson Makamo’s painting styles, rotund figures gather under a lush, oversized Colombian tree, signing peace agreements between government officials and rebel fighters.
Yes, left-handers propel economies forward.

And yes, they had almost completely vanished a century ago.

I explain why in my latest post. Link in bio.

#midjourney prompt: An African left hand holding a takeaway coffee cup that says ‘ECONOMIC GROWTH’.
⚔️ What's the latest in the world of economic history research? ($)

From newspapers to antitoxins, from Egyptian minorities to solar eclipses, from the 'American Way' to pre-Enlightenment war, and much more...

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#midjourney prompt: Tilt-shift photo of medieval European warfare.
You've heard about the Asian Tigers and, perhaps, the African Lions. I'd like to introduce you to the African Crocodiles.

Like the Nile crocodile thriving in rough, turbulent waters, the continent is becoming more adept at turning challenges into opportunities.

The intelligent investor should take note.

🐊 Link in bio!

#midjourney prompt: A colourful, playful Congolese cartoon advertisement of a friendly Nile crocodile with a banner saying ‘INVEST HERE’.
🦟 - Will vaccines finally end malaria’s deadly grip?
💰 - Is crypto preparing for another bubble?
👶 - Will fertility rates rebound?
📱 - Will there be a backlash against social media?
👽 - Are we alone in the universe?

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#midjourney: An abstract painting with zomp symbolising the vast oceanic expanse of global democracy and bold fulvous accent streaks across the canvas representing the fiery challenges to it. (Version 2)
South Africa enters a pivotal election year. The ANC's win or an alliance with the EFF might mean more economic stagnation.

Meanwhile, Argentina's shift from a bloated state economy to Javier Milei's chainsaw approach offers a radical blueprint for change. Can South Africa take a leaf out of this book for economic revival?

What's your take? Is drastic government downsizing the answer, or is there a better path?

Link in bio.

#midjourney prompt: A Pixar animation character of Javier Milei as a Zulu king.
In this week's post ($), I look forward to the new year, asking questions that this year might answer:

🗳️ - Will democracy survive?
📝 - Have I graded my final exam script?
⏰ - Is this the end of the five-day workweek?
🚂 - Will trains make a comeback?
🎓 - Has critical theory been displaced?

#midjourney prompt: An abstract painting with zomp symbolising the vast oceanic expanse of global democracy and bold fulvous accent streaks across the canvas representing the fiery challenges to it.