Sampie: pa, leermeester en visioner

This website in honour of Sampie's life and work was compiled by close family as he struggled with terminal brain cancer over five months


Sampie Terreblanche 17/04/1933- 17/02/2018


Afrikaner political economist who spoke truth to power to both the NP and ANC



To sum up Sampie Terreblanche simply as a ’maverick’ intellectual would perhaps be unfair. His progression from an Afrikaner nationalist to an advocate of its demise to an ANC supporter to a fierce critic of the ruling party was certainly spectacular and often dramatic. But each step in his fifty years as public intellectual and political economist was preceded by deep soul-searching and intense discussions with his close friends and family about how to best serve the common good.

Sampie may ultimately be remembered for his fearlessness in speaking truth to power, and a public intellectual who constantly reminded apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa of the injustice inherent in economic inequality. It did not matter whether it was the apartheid government during the era of turbulent clashes under former presidents John Vorster and PW Botha or the ANC government whom he accused of selling out its own marginalised constituency. His harsh judgement came fifteen years after he eagerly participated in unofficial "talks about talks" with the then banned ANC in exile, paving the way for formal negotiations and a political settlement.

His critique of the ANC’s economic policy was long in the making as Sampie wrestled over his extensive academic career as a political economist with apartheid’s economic injustice, which he came to fear, may theoretically be too entrenched to overcome without a tearing down of elite structures. This theoretical perspective was paralleled by his intense involvement in processes that marked the attempted transition out of the morass of racial capitalism.

Sampie also hit the headlines for arguing that a “wealth tax” ought to be levied in South Africa to help the transformation of post-apartheid society and for writing a definitive book on systemic inequality in South Africa. Twenty years ago, Terreblanche said about the redistributive logic of taxing the rich to overcome apartheid: “The income could be used to set up a restitution fund to help alleviate the worst poverty in South Africa". Writing in November 2017 about widespread scorn he received in 1997 from TRC liberals, neoliberals and ANC nationalists alike, he said: “The proposal elicited strong disapproval. One newspaper caricatured me as an alien apparition from outer space.”

The elite rejection of a more redistributive road to justice galvanised Sampie’s resolve to write his seminal 2002 book ’A History of Inequality in South Africa: 1652 – 2002’ in which he first accused the ANC of betraying its constituency and warned about the dangers of South-Africa’s "incomplete transition". Published on the eve of the ANC 2002 leadership conference, the ruling party castigated and effectively cast him out. Yet, the book became a standard bearer on the topic, with seven reprints and well over a thousand academic citations.

Ten years later, a follow up book ’Lost in Transformation’ (2012) elaborated more powerfully on his earlier analysis. He argued that the transition process and post-apartheid state was captured by the US and Britain along with big corporations, with the ANC mere collaborators. He called it an "elite conspiracy" in which a small ANC elite had knowingly betrayed the masses. This made impossible a democratic capitalism that could hold to account powerful interests. [See Recent Tributes for an appraisal of his work on inequality]

Two more books on inequality followed. His last of thirteen books, Western Empires, Christianity and the Inequalities between the West and the Rest (2014) described more than 500 years of dispossession since capitalism's origins. Among others, it anticipated the right-wing populism that is sweeping through the U.S. and Europe.

Born in 1933 into an Afrikaner National Party family near the small Free State town of Edenville, he chose law over farming. After three years at Stellenbosch University, he switched to economics – a move that would define his life. After a Masters, awarded cum laude, he accepted a post at the Free State University, and threw himself into a PhD, marriage and fatherhood. In 1965 he became senior lecturer in Stellenbosch, where he moved into a relatively modest house where the family lived for the rest of his life; and he was soon promoted to professor.

Given his National Party (NP) background, he was drawn into the Broederbond early on, of which he would be a rather controversial member – passionately outspoken until his resignation after two decades in 1987. Although loyalty, honesty and fairness were among his outstanding character traits, he was not afraid to break ranks to publicly take on the Afrikaner ’verkramptes’ (arch conservatives) in the then establishment. Yet to many he was during that time – along with some of his Stellenbosch peers – the face of the apartheid regime’s more progressive economic policies. 

His Damascus Road really started in the early 1970s when he was appointed a member of the ’Erika Theron’ Commission of Inquiry relating to matters concerning the Coloured Population Group (1973-76). Under social welfare intellectual and practitioner, Prof. Theron, he experienced first-hand the pervasive poverty traps and injustice of a racial group that had been cast aside as lesser human beings. He often remarked that this period made him a more humane political economist and deepened his passion for justice.

In later years, he deeply regretted a decision not to leave the ruling National Party establishment behind at that juncture. Instead, at the time, he believed he could use his insights to accelerate reform from the inside. In addition to his theoretical work, numerous calls on public platforms and in newspaper articles agitating for urgent reform followed. As deputy chairman of the SABC board, he was indeed able to curtail the influence of a long-standing ultra-right political management. Several critical books (in Afrikaans) saw the light, in which he finally concluded that a transition to true economic justice might not be possible without a violent tearing down of the structures of injustice.

In the end it took Sampie another ten years after 1976 to make his "Stellenbosch jump to freedom", painfully but definitively severing most of his Afrikaner nationalist ’veins’. A decisive turning point was P.W. Botha’s disastrous 1985 Rubicon speech. A group of senior Stellenbosch professors formed the Discussion Group 85 agitating for intense reform, with Sampie as chairman. They penned a "perception document" that demolished long-held NP propaganda-pillars such as the Total Onslaught and suggested a rapid policy reform process. The government rejected this out of hand during several meetings. While their document was not published, it has been remarked that the proposals were eerily similar to the programme officially implemented by FW de Klerk in 1990.

In February 1986, a last – almost violent – confrontation with P.W. Botha resulted in Sampie resigning from the NP the next day. Along with 27 other members of the Group 85, he issued a Public Declaration that rebuked the NP government’s inability to provide hope for the country or to embrace the scant opportunity left for meaningful change. This became known as the ’Stellenbosch Revolt' in which over 300 academics signed the Declaration within days. Effectively it meant that the apartheid government’s reliance on intellectual and moral justification from Stellenbosch was shattered. [See underneath Curriculum Vitae for Sampie’s own description of the dramatic break]

In the months and years that followed, Sampie worked passionately at several levels to facilitate a transition: calling for sanctions, penning dozens of articles, speeches and proposals and working towards reducing the NPs parliamentary majority. He helped establish the Democratic Party and became its first economic advisor and a council member (1989-90). Sampie was also active in numerous organisations working for transformation, from the arts and media to the ecumenical, although he was never a churchman.

Sampie also became a member of clandestine "talks about talks" with the ANC in exile in 1987. Privately, he expressed fears even then that a "Catch 22" was lurking in South Africa’s future. Would a true transition from Apartheid structures be possible given the overwhelming power of vested interests? He was all too aware of the infiltration and control of the meetings by the big corporates – from Anglo to Shell. Yet, he used every possible opportunity on public and academic platforms to advocate a peaceful transition to greater economic justice, among others, at countless international speaking engagements.

While embracing the 1994 political transition, he became increasingly concerned about the growing inequality and an apparent inability of the ANC to hold to account elite power blocks. In his last months, he again publicly emphasised the mistake that was the ANCs rejection of a wealth tax to support significant redistribution. In 1997, Sampie first proposed the idea of a wealth tax in testimony before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s special institutional hearings on the role of business and labour under Apartheid. The new establishment’s rebuke was total. Yet, as Sampie wrote shortly before his death – today the distribution of income and wealth is indeed massively more unequal than twenty years earlier.

“The TRC and government’s failure two decades ago to make a systemic intervention into the structural inequalities of post-colonial and post-apartheid South Africa has fed into a deepening of poverty and inequity. Unfortunately, this also means that the dangerous tensions between opposing groups is much worse than in 1997” he wrote in late 2017.

Although many detractors labelled Sampie as a ’socialist’ or ’communist’, he maintained to the end that he was a social democrat. He regarded it his duty as political economist to foster the common good in society and to relentlessly test the strength of governance and power structures that ought to protect it. 

In one of his last interviews he said: “Wat ons moet doen is om hierdie lewe so te leef dat die wêreld ’n beter plek is wanneer ons gaan as wanneer ons hier gekom het. Dit is ons groot uitdaging” “What we ought to do is to live our lives in such a way that the world is a better place when we go compared to how we found it. That is our big challenge.” Sampie often jested that he was a child of the 1930s DDC (drought, depression and Calvinism) into which he was born and that these challenges shaped his moral and intellectual journey.

He was on the campaign trail until the end, agitating for the return of public land (commons) annexed over the years by wealthy property owners in his neighbourhood in Stellenbosch. He also complained about how Stellenbosch has become a town of ostentatious wealth. “There are many rich people here and they act like rich people and that is just horrible (aaklig)”. It earned him some wrath, but he was resolute. Fair is fair, and one should fight for it without fear or favour. This is how he lived his life.

Sampie himself may have wanted to be remembered for the thousands of students he tutored and mentored over a near sixty-year period of lecturing, mostly on economic history and economic systems, the bread and butter of his life that gave him intense joy and inspiration. It also earned him three honorary doctorates, among many accolades and awards.

It is unfortunate that he could not fully appreciate the tumultuous events in South Africa since early December 2017 – the sheer greed exposed in corporate scandals and the potential implosion of the ANC. Sampie predicted these turns while being vilified as an eccentric. But the stark reality of the poorest being neglected by the ruling elite reminds us again how South Africa ought to take to heart Sampie’s proposals for a more just and equitable society.

Sampie fell ill a year ago, shortly after his wife Ina (neé Smuts) of 58 years passed away. He was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in September 2017.

He is survived by four daughters, Christelle Terreblanche, Marié Kirsten, Louise van Zyl and Carine Terreblanche, and a son, Sampie Terreblanche. He also have five grandchildren, Nina and Gerhard Kirsten, Willem and SJ van Zyl and Sam Dupper. 

Written by Christelle Terreblanche, with contributions from family and friends. Inquiries: 083 232 4134.

As a young man at Tweespruit, the farm near Edenville, where he grew up

Sampie with his wife of 57 years, Ina (nee) Smuts (1936-2016)

The family gathers one more time in 2017

With Dr. Beyers Naude & Breyten Breytenbach at 'talks about talks' with the ANC in exile 1980s

About Sampie Terreblanche


Sampie Terreblanche (84) was professor emeritus at Stellenbosch University, who also spent time at Harvard and the University of the Free State. His work as a political economist and public commentator over 60 years was marked by sharp and controversial shifts to the left of his Afrikaner nationalist roots. Sampie served on several public commissions and as deputy chairman of the SABC. He authored 13 books and hundreds of papers and public lectures, with a focus since the 1990s on inequality and its underlying wealth problem. Among many awards, he received three honorary doctorates.



A Wealth Tax for South Africa

Sampie Terreblanche

South Africa: President Cyril Ramaphosa Pays Tribute to the Late Professor Johannes 'Sampie' Terreblanche

The wealthy put on blinkers when South Africa’s democracy dawned

Maarten Mittner


Democracy, racism and other long-held beliefs: can people really change?

William Gumede


Dissident has stood firm against inequality

Dennis Webster


More from Sampie's pen




1986 On the road to transformation in South Africa



Sampie authored thirteen books between the 1960s and 2014


                 Sampie Terreblanche se dertien boeke gaan onder meer oor armoede, ongelykheid, die strukturele krisis van die Suid-Afrikaanse ekonomie, sosiale en ekonomiese geregtigheid, politieke krisisse van die land se demokratiese oorgang - en uiteindelik 'n magnus opus oor die wortels van globale ongelykheid, waarin hy die regsgesinde mobilisasie voorspel wat deur Amerika en Europa spoel.






Terreblanche, S.J. Die Industriële Groeiproses 17701940 (“The Industrial Growth Process 1770-1940). Kosmo-publishers, Stellenbosch, 1967, 320 pages. A book in Afrikaans comparing processes of industrialisation in Great Britain, France, Germany and the United States.

Terreblanche, S.J. Die Doelwit van ’n Hoë Ekonomiese Groeikoers (“The purpose of a high economic growth rate). Academica, Pretoria, 1973, 142 pages. A book in Afrikaans which is a critical analysis of a high economic growth rate as the sole purpose of an economic system.

Terreblanche, S.J. Vernuwing en Herskikking (“Renewal and Realignment). Tafelberg, Cape Town, 1973, 167 pages. A book in Afrikaans making a plea for comprehensive political and economic reform in South Africa.

 Terreblanche, S.J. Chroniese Gemeenskapsarmoede (“Chronic community poverty). Tafelberg, Cape Town, 1977, 1861 pages. A book in Afrikaans on the phenomena of a sub-culture of poverty among the Coloured population group. It was written after Sampie served a three year-term as member of the 'Erika Theron' Commission investigating matters concerning the Coloured population group (1973-1976).

 Terreblanche, S.J. Die Wording van die Westerse Ekonomie (“The Making of the economic order of the Western World). Academica, Pretoria 1980, reprinted in 1982, 307 pages. A book in Afrikaans presenting a systemic modeling of the economic and political history of the Western World since 500. In the final chapter a modeldeveloped to demonstrate why South Africa cannot resist the process of modernisation and democratisation.

 Terreblanche, S.J. Politieke Economie en Sosiale Welvaart (“Political Economy and Social Welfare). Academica, Pretoria, 1986, 349 pages. A largely philosophical book in Afrikaans on the purpose of the political and economic systems of a country. In the final chapter the analysis is applied to the South African case arguing that the political and economic systems of a country should not be used to promote only the interest of a white minority, but should be instrumental in promoting the interests or social welfare of the total population.

Terreblanche, S.J. Geskiedenis van die Westerse Ekonomie ("History of the Western Economy"). Academica, Pretoria and Cape Town, 1988, 161 pages. A narrative about economic systems from the Greek City States to the birth of Democratic Capitalism).

 Terreblanche, S.J. Die Geskiedenis van Opeenvolgende Ekonomiese Stelsels ("A History of Successive Economic Systems"). Southern Publishers, Johannesburg, 1994, 230 pages. A book in Afrikaans for first year students on the economic and political history of the Western world.

 Terreblanche, S.J. Political Perspective on past empowerment practices in South Africa. A research document commissioned by the Development Bank of Southern Africa for the Black Economic Empowerment Commission (BEECOM). 

 Terreblanche, S.J. A History of Inequality in South Africa:  1652 – 2002. University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg, 2002, 494 pages (7 reprints). The book analyses the work of numerous historians on inequality and exploitation in South Africa. Over 1 000 citations in the academic literature. (See:

Terreblanche, S.J. Lost in Transformation. 2012.  KMM Review Publishing Company, Johannesburg, 144 pages. Shortlisted for Sunday Times Alan Paton non-fiction Literature Award 2013. (See:

Terreblanche, S.J. Verdeelde Land (“A Country Divided”). Tafelberg Uitgewers, Kaapstad, 2014. An extended version of Lost in Transformation, 211 pages.

Terreblanche, S.J. Western Empires, Christianity and the Inequalities between the West and the Rest, 1500 – 2010. Penguin Books, 2014. 562 pages. A longe duree analysis of the origins of global inequality and, among others, predicting the rightwing populism sweeping Europe and America today. (See:

Last words from Sampie & those who recently joined a tribute symposium on his work as a political economist

The University of Johannesburg held a one-day tribute symposium to honour Sampie's life and work on 29 January 2018, entitled: "State Capture & Inequality". Sampie was unable to travel, but watched via Skype. Among the high-profile speakers who debated his work on inequality was Moeletsi Mbeki, Ronnie Kasrils, Jeremy Cronin, Floyd Shivambu, Yasmin Sooka, Patrick Bond, Ashwin Desai, Peter Alexander, Eddie Webster, Amanda Gouws, Trevor Ngwane, Sam Ashman, Pieter le Roux, Jane Duncan, Verne Harris, Fazila Farouk and Leon Wessels.


Video clips of Sampie's last interview with Adam Asmal:

·       Sampie on the rationale for a wealth tax at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1997 and his thoughts about its non-implementation 20 years later


Is South Africa still a viable nation state in 2018? 


See also:

      2013 interview with Fazila Farouk on South Africa's unfinished transition and the sacrifices whites will have to make


·       2018 SABC interview with Prof. Patrick Bond of Wits on Sampie's contribution as political economist    


Prof. Ashwin Desai of UJ on Sampie's legacy with Prof. Eddie Webster, Christelle and Ronnie Kasrils

Ronnie Kasrils speaking in support of Sampie's thesis about SA's elite transition

The EFF's Floyd Shivambu on SA's incomplete transition, with Ashwin and Yasmin Sooka

Sampie's main publisher, Moeletsi Mbeki, elaborate on the making of two controversial books, Jeremy Cronin listening intently

An appeal for a Justice and Reconciliation Commission

Professors Sampie Terreblanche, Drucilla Cornell and Mahmood Mandani first made a call for a Justice and Reconciliation Commission when xenophobic violence first broke out in 2008. The call was repeated by  Professors Terreblanche, Cornell and Mabogo More in 2016 when the FeesMustFall Movement arose. The appeal is yet to be answered, but the question of how to attain structural and socio-economic justice remains as burning as ever.


Only complete reform of economy can defuse xenophobia tensions

We believe that the violence that South Africa has experienced over the last week is systemic in nature and will not end until the underlying causes of economic distress have been dealt with thoroughly.South Africa is in a state of emergency because of the failure to address desperate poverty and is in urgent need of a mechanism to begin public discussion on how to ensure dignity for all those who live here.

Even by conservative estimates, over 50% of the South African population experiences dire poverty. Many of the poor live in townships, and for the most part, what is at stake in these townships is a battle for mere survival in unbearable living conditions. The consequence of this poverty has invariably led to the current outpouring of frustration and rage in various South African townships. When survival itself is at stake, it is not surprising to see violence against those who can only seem to be a threat to whatever little means of a livelihood there is. There is only one solution, which is to address the underlying economic distress – to address the complete failure of supply-side capitalist economics in South Africa. Read more


FeesMustFall: Call for justice and reconciliation commission

Many universities have been shut down due to student protests demanding free higher education. This is the latest expression of the deep inequalities that affect the majority Black population in South Africa. The promise of a better future that underpinned the anti-Apartheid struggle remains unfulfilled. The nation’s unjust economy must be discussed.

In 2008, in response to what was called the “xenophobic riots” in the townships, we argued that only complete reform of the economy can provide solutions to the despair and desperation of the majority Black population who have been living in horrific poverty. At that time, we called for a Justice and Reconciliation Commission, which two of the authors, Professors Mahmood Mamdani and Sampie Terreblanche, had already argued in 1998 was absolutely necessary for a full review of the supply-side capitalist economics that had already come to dominate the economic policy in South Africa. Read more

In Sampie's own words - 'Author's Introduction' to Western Empires, Christianity, and the Inequalities between the West and the Rest, 1500 – 2010 (2014)

Page 1





Undated cartoon of Sampie's drive to demobilise the National Party and a perceived vendetta against the Afrikaans NG Church by Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu