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  • Vishnu Padayachee 1952-20211
  • Imraan Valodia (bio)

The prominent South African economist Vishnu Padayachee passed away in the early hours of May 29, 2021, following a series of health challenges over the previous two years. Vishnu was a past editor of the journal Transformation, having joined the editorial team, then made up of Bill Freund, Mike Morris, and Gerhard Maré shortly after its launch in 1986. Vishnu's name first appeared on the list of editors for issue 5, published in 1987. He left the editorial board in 1999, whereafter I was invited to join the board, to continue the important work Vishnu had undertaken to develop Transformation as an influential forum for debate about the nature of the economic transition in South Africa, and a voice for alternative economic policy analyses. Vishnu rejoined the editorial board in 2012, and remained an editor until 2016. During the interregnum in the 2012-2016 period and post-2016, Vishnu remained a regular contributor to the journal–as an author, publishing several important pieces on economic policy in South Africa, and as a referee. Transformation was a key part of a multifaceted and deep academic and personal friendship that I enjoyed with Vishnu over a period of some 38 years.

I first met Vishnu Padayachee when he walked into my Economics 101 class in 1983 at the University of Durban-Westville (UDW) to lecture on introductory microeconomics. Vishnu immediately made a lasting impression on me, and has since then been my mentor, friend, academic colleague, and comrade until his untimely death. As he began his lecture, I was immediately mesmerised by this handsome, urbane, genial, exceptionally articulate lecturer, his mannerisms more akin to that of an English upper-class gentleman than what was then the norm at UDW, who made Economics 101 not only interesting, but also tinged with radical economic ideas. As a young student growing up in apartheid South [End Page 1] Africa and studying at a university where a number of the lecturers were members of the Broederbond, this was truly extraordinary stuff. I made regular visits to Vishnu's office when he moved to the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) at UDW and he 'fed' my curiosity for better understanding South Africa. He introduced me to the work of, among others, Harold Wolpe, Martin Legassick, Rick Turner, the famous speech by Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU) general secretary Joe Foster at the FOSATU congress, which outlined the Federation's views on the relationship between the struggle for workers' rights through trades unions, and the struggle for political freedom in South Africa. None of this literature was, of course, a part the Economics curriculum and most of it was, at the time, banned. In those days, people went to jail for distributing this kind of material. Suddenly, Economics was exciting and I began better to understand the world around me. These early years shaped my academic trajectory forever. Over the years, Vishnu had the impact of steering me toward a better understanding of the world, linking up with new exciting research ideas, striving for academic excellence, and enjoying books and leisurely lunches. Remarkably, he had this effect on many, many others.

Vishnu was born on the south coast of (then) the province of Natal in the town of Umkomaas on May 31, 1952. His father was a teacher and school principal. In those days, the life of an Indian school principal in Natal involved having to move from one little town to the next. Vishnu's parents lived this life. As a result of this Vishnu was brought up by his relatives in Umkomaas, a well-off and globally connected family with connections in, among other places, Germany. I think this upbringing was instrumental in Vishnu's love for the good things in life–good food, sporty cars, good wine and the best whisky–notwithstanding his lifelong work for a democratic and egalitarian society.

Vishnu studied at the University of Durban-Westville, at the time the only place where Indians were able to study, completing a BComm, BComm (Hons) and MComm in Economics, respectively in 1973, 1975 and 1979. He began working as a junior...