I wish I knew more history. I’ve studied it formally once after school, when I took a course in precolonial African economic history at the London School of Economics. It exposed the preconceptions an apartheid-era childhood had left me with. I felt as if I had been released from Plato’s cave.

Right now, I wish I knew much more about two other historical topics: epidemics and state financial collapses. Both would clarify the issues South Africans today must grapple with...

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