Sampie Terreblanche: an intellectual giant of economics who opened minds to social role
Prof Terreblanche left an indelible mark on the thinking patterns of his students, writes Michael Jordaan
Sampie, as Prof Sampie Terreblanche was affectionately known to all at the University of Stellenbosch, had a favourite teaching trick. He would ask each of his 1,000-plus first-year economics students to write an essay on why we need economic growth.
Sampie would then proceed to read the answers back to the class and discuss the merits and flaws of these views with us. Young adults who had been taught to memorise facts in school but never to use critical thinking faculties produced questionable responses like: "it is our Calvinistic duty to grow the economy" or "economic growth is the only option that humans have".
For most of us students it was the first time a teacher had asked our opinion and then openly debated our views. This was nothing short of a paradigm shift for our young minds, which may have explained why Sampie also loved the word "paradigm". His trick was to make us think properly for the first time.
Sampie’s speciality subject was economic history and he produced book after book on the topic, usually with a golden thread of how societies managed to produce or destroy social welfare.
This was his main critique on the South African economy too: that our own form of politically flawed, commodity-based capitalism did not adequately serve the large portion of society.
To this day I see myself as an adherent of a social market economic system, thanks to Sampie’s intellectual influence. He would call us adherents the "Sampioene", which roughly translates to "Sampie’s mushrooms".
In our economics honours class he dished out an extensive reading list, which we were required to first study and then debate in front of our peers. To Sampie’s credit, these books often did not always support his own views — they often challenged them. This intellectual open-mindedness set him apart from many other professors and social commentators.
His enthusiasm and curiosity made it impossible not to like him, even if Sampie made us burn the midnight oil reading text after text of worldly philosophers. Sampie’s lasting gift to me was engendering this love of reading often and widely, including opposing thoughts.
I bumped into Sampie a year ago and he was just as I remembered him as a student: excited to tell me about his latest book, critical about the developmental shortcomings of our government, teasing me about the role of large banks in a capitalist economy and sharing his latest philosophical insights; all with a twinkle in his eye.
The man was an intellectual giant who left an indelible mark on the thinking patterns of his students. He could intermingle a broad variety of topics, such as an analysis of what South African political leaders thought of their successors (tip: always negative) with the performance of our rugby teams in the same period
and the structural characteristics of the economy, all with exact dates. He lifted the level of debate wherever he went and never gave up the fight against inequality and injustice.
It is not only his loving family that will deeply miss him, but tens of thousands of Sampioene who had the privilege of being lectured by an exceptional professor. May he rest in peace.
• Jordaan is a former FNB CEO who now heads private investment company Montegray Capital.