THE GREAT DIVERGENCE IN SOUTH AFRICA: POPULATION AND WEALTH DYNAMICS OVER TWO CENTURIES

No. 47/2019

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Authors

Dieter von Fintel and Johan Fourie

Abstract

Does wealth persist over time, despite the disruptions of historical shocks
like colonisation? This paper shows that South Africa experienced a rever-
sal of fortunes after the arrival of European settlers in the eastern half of
the country. Yet this was not, as some have argued was the case elsewhere
in colonial Africa, because of an institutional reversal. We argue, instead,
that black South Africans found themselves at the mercy of two extrac-
tive regimes: those in `white South Africa and those in the `homelands.
The political and economic institutions of each of those regimes favoured a
small elite: in white South Africa, whites, and in the homelands, the black
chiefs and headmen. Democracy brought inclusive institutions for black
residents in white South Africa but not for those in the former home-
lands. This is why we see mass migration to the urban areas of South
Africa today, and why addressing the institutional weaknesses of the for-
mer homelands is key to alleviating the poverty in these regions where a
third of South Africans still reside.

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