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Speaking at the 1992 World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos two years before assuming office as the first president of a democratic SA, Nelson Mandela called for “a global offensive for development, prosperity and human survival”. In laying out his vision for an imminent postapartheid economy, he spoke in terms that would have appealed to the orthodoxy of the time. The new regime would usher in a mixed economy with ambitions to raise the levels of investment and productivity.

As we mark the passing of economist John Williamson, who coined the term “Washington Consensus”, it is worth reflecting on a new society that came into being in a time shaped by popular notions of what Williamson meant. SA economic debates were shaped by — and continue to make reference to — that set of ideas...

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