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Wits mourns the passing of Distinguished Professor Vishnu Padayachee

- Wits University

Professor Vishnu Padayachee, an outstanding scholar, a renowned economist, a life-long activist, and a dedicated colleague passed away on Saturday, 29 May 2021.

His passing has come as a shock to many who worked with him as a world-class academic and researcher over the last 40 years. A Distinguished Professor at Wits University, Padayachee joined Wits in 2014 and most recently served as the Derek Schrier and Cecily Cameron Chair in Development Economics in the Wits School of Economics and Finance.

Research trajectory

Padayachee is highly cited, and renowned for his research in economics, economics history, economic transformation, and development. He had ten books and monographs to his name, about 40 book chapters, 10 book reviews, and almost 110 journal articles. He was regularly invited to speak at conferences around the world and was also widely published in the popular press.

Professor Vishnu Padayachee

A sought-after supervisor, Padayachee served as a mentor to many postgraduate students. He was currently working with postgraduate students on research related to economic policy debates, macroeconomic and monetary policy issues in post-apartheid South Africa, democratic politics and economic policymaking in South Africa, and business, corporations and society in the Global South in the 21st Century.

Contribution to SA’s economic policy

Professor Padayachee played an instrumental role in the design of and debates on post-apartheid economic policy. As a young lecturer he worked closely with the democratic trade union movement in the 1980s and served as a member of the Economic Trends group, which provided research support to the union movement. He was a leading member of the Macroeconomic Research Group, which provided support to the mass democratic movement in the early 1990s, prior to the political transition in 1994. In 1995, President Nelson Mandela appointed him to the board of the South African Reserve Bank.

Honours and Awards

Professor Padayachee was a member of the Royal Society of South Africa, a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa, and a member of the Institute of Directors of South Africa. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Economics from Rhodes University in 2018 for making “an exceptionally distinguished contribution to the post-apartheid transformation of South African economic policy in ways that serve the economic and social needs of all South Africans and marginalised black South Africans, in particular.”

He remains a life-time fellow and Professor Emeritus at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), a fellow of the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies, and a life-time fellow of the Society of Scholars at Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore and Washington DC).

Academic Career

An eminent economist, Padayachee completed his undergraduate degrees in economics at the then University of Durban-Westville (UDW), at a time when the university was known for its vociferous activism against apartheid, and his PhD in Economics and Economic History at the then University of Natal.

Professor Padayachee’s academic career extends over four decades. He joined the academy in 1977 as a junior lecturer at UDW in 1984. He was then appointed as a Research Fellow at UDW’s Institute for Social and Economic Research, and as a Senior Research Fellow in 1991. Two years later he was appointed as an Associate Research Professor, and in 1995 as a full Research Professor. He served as the Special Assistant to the Vice-Chancellor of UDW in the early 1990s, where he coordinated committees on transformation, democratisation, institutional management design and advancement, amongst others.

He was appointed as a Research Professor in the School of Development Studies at the University of Natal from 1997 to 2001 and, from 2001, as a Senior Research Professor at the merged University of KwaZulu-Natal. This confirmed his exceptional standing in his discipline and his continuing record of outstanding service, beyond the normal call of duty. During this time, he also served as the Head of the School of Development Studies at Natal University. He was then appointed as the Head of the School of Development Studies at UKZN, a position that he held until 2012. Under his leadership, the School of Development Studies was considered to be amongst the most pre-eminent development studies research and postgraduate training centres in the world. He was also named a Professor Extraordinaire at the Institute of Social and Economic Research at Rhodes University. He joined Wits in 2014 as a Distinguished Professor in Economics.

Global Recognition

His academic expertise was recognised globally, and Padayachee enjoyed visiting fellowships at Johns Hopkins University, the Chr Michelsen Institute in Norway, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Oxford, amongst others.

Beyond the classroom

Professor Padayachee used his academic prowess to inform his social, labour and humanitarian endeavours beyond the classroom. He was a genuine, meticulous human being who impacted positively on the lives of students, colleagues, and South Africans - he transformed society for the better. He was a mentor to many students and colleagues who have gone on to excel in academic institutions around the world.

An avid book and art collector, Professor Padayachee was for many years the co-owner of the iconic Durban second-hand bookshop, Ike’s Books and Collectables. A passionate follower of cricket, he published widely on cricket and served on the Board of the United Cricket Board.

Our heartfelt sympathies are extended to his wife and family, his colleagues, students, friends, and those who knew him well. He has left his footprints on this Earth, and a legacy that will endure for generations. Go gently, Professor Padayachee, you will be missed.