An Economic History of South Africa: Conquest, Discrimination and Development

By Beck, Roger B. | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, May 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

An Economic History of South Africa: Conquest, Discrimination and Development


Beck, Roger B., The International Journal of African Historical Studies


An Economic History of South Africa: Conquest, Discrimination and Development By Charles H. Feinstein. Cambridge, U.K.: Cam-bridge University Press, 2005. Pp. xxiii, 302. $75.00 cloth, $32.99 paper.

Charles H. Feinstein's interest in economic history began in a class taught by Helen Suzman at the University of the Witswatersrand in 1950. He went on to teach economic history at Cambridge, York, and Oxford, and authored several highly influential studies of British economic history before his death in November 2004. He returned to teach at the University of Cape Town after 1994 and initially took up a study of South African economic history in preparation for giving the 2004 Ellen McArthur Lecture at Cambridge.

The book blurb says this is the "first economic history of South Africa in over sixty years." That is not altogether accurate. The reference is to Cornelius de Kiewiet's famous History of South Africa. Social and Economic (Oxford, 1941). In 2002, however, Sampie Terreblanche, an economics professor at Stellenbosch University, published an important study titled A History of Inequality in South Africa 1652-2002 (Natal Press). Terreblanche focuses primarily on the unequal distribution of wealth since European colonization, while Feinstein's work is a straightforward overview of the "character, transformation, initial growth, and final decline of South Africa's economy" (p. xviii). He concentrates his attention on 'the central issues of macroeconomic development in the economy as a whole and in the key sectors of agriculture, mining, and industry, and of the related economic and political policies which influenced the economy" (p. xviii).

Like his predecessors, Feinstein is primarily concerned with South African history since European colonization. Thus, there still remains a need for an economic history of precolonial southern Africa. Feinstein devotes eight pages in his opening chapter to the African peoples and their economies prior to 1652. His second chapter takes the story up to 1913 and the first Natives' Land Act, with an emphasis on European expansion, land alienation, white control over labor, and Black-White conflict. The remainder of the study is thematic in approach, with a gradual progression through the twentieth century. Some pretty solid knowledge of South African history is assumed here, as Feinstein moves back and forth among centuries and economic events.

In Chapters 3 and 4 he looks at the use of coercion and discrimination to create a labor force and the implementation of a color bar to protect, in particular, white miners and poor whites. He examines the gold revolution beginning in the late 180Os in Chapter 5-how it became the engine of growth of the South African economy and the most exploitative sector of black labor.

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