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Reconstruction in the Aftermath of Global Health and Economic Crises:

- Dr Nomfundo Xenia Ngwenya, Professors Mzukisi Qobo and Mills Soko

Historical Lessons for South Africa

Countries that have gone through tough economic times, either due to health pandemics,
economic depression or wars, have managed to learn from adversity and rethink their development
models. This chapter draws lessons from diff erent countries’ experiences responding to health and
economic crises and off ers a refl ection on South Africa’s own history, particularly the state’s role in
responding to adversity. Historically, the state has played a leading role in using crises to spur social
and economic change, often through building new institutions, legislative or regulatory frameworks,
and recasting its relationship with the markets. Crises often create pressure for collective action,
expressed in the state’s activities, to ameliorate social and economic ills. At times, new political
regimes are established to replace those that are considered to be ineff ective or to serve narrow

In this chapter, we examine how, at various historical points, crises have strengthened some states
and led to the creation of new institutional and economic arrangements. The central aim of this
chapter is to identify and draw historical lessons that South African policymakers can deploy as a
framework for shaping future economic policy and strategy. It bears mentioning, nevertheless, that
context matters in undertaking this analysis, especially if decision-makers know how to translate
such lessons into useful policy actions. The various crises under discussion occurred in unique
and divergent economic and institutional contexts, signifi cantly dissimilar to those of contemporary
times. The measures were also not perfect, but eff ective. As such, not every lesson from the past
is necessarily translatable to public policy action today, precisely because contexts and the means
diff er. The exercise we undertake here is merely for the purpose of delineating policy options
that decision-makers can use. The cases that we have selected are countries in which the state
demonstrated a sense of mission and agility. They are by no means perfect cases, and lessons
cannot easily be implanted in South Africa unless decision-makers show a willingness to adapt
those lessons that suit their social and political context.

Full paper: Reconstruction in the Aftermath of Global Health and Economic Crises