The essays in this edited special issue aims to probe the nature and 'varieties' of capitalism that emerged and evolved in South Africa following the diamond and gold discoveries of the second half of the 19th century. Is there anything about the origins, evolution and structure of South African capitalism that is distinct or special? What are the continuities, and what the disjunctures, between the character of capitalism in South Africa before and since democratic change? Can one indeed talk about a model or models of South Africa capitalism? Are the rhythms of South Africa's capitalist development, its cycles and crises, determined by and form an inseparable part of capitalist accumulation trajectories on a global scale? Or can one argue that while some components of any national economy today will be inextricably driven by global imperatives, this exists alongside (in either mutually supportive or antagonistic ways) a set of institutions and a history that is essentially national in character. Finally, how similar or how different is contemporary South African capitalism from other models of capitalism - viewed either as stylised, theoretical constructions or in relation to comparable middle-income developing or emerging market economies. These and related themes are set out in this first essay.