Emeritus professor Sampie Terreblanche dies at 84

Posted by Johan Fourie on 2018-02-19

Stellenbosch emeritus professor Johannes "Sampie" Terreblanche, 84, passed away on Saturday, 17 February, following a brief battle with brain cancer.

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.

Prof Terreblanche 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.

Prof Terreblanche never really saw himself as a research professor, but rather as a lecturing one. Because of the relatively large volume of lectures that he presented to large classes, he received the dubious distinction of probably having more total "student points" (calculated as the amount of lectures given multiplied by the number of students present in every lecture) over the course of his term as lecturer and professor than any other lecturer in the history of the University. Roughly estimating, his student points should have reached one million if all students attended all of their lectures. Unfortunately a "leakage" of 150 000 to 200 000 points took place, and Prof Terreblanche stated that it was not in his power to solve the problem.

Many of the lectures given by Prof Terreblanche were controversial and therefore the Afrikaans students decided that the acronym SAMPIE could be applied to "Suid-Afrika se Mal Professor In Ekonomie" (South Africa's crazy Economics professor). Fortunately rumour also has it that a small group of students instead called him "Suid-Afrika se Meester Professor In Ekonomie" (South Africa's master Economics professor). In one famous incident, Prof Terreblanche, after a heated ,monologue, asked the students rhetorically 'Is julle kapitaliste of kommuniste?'. From the back, a lone voice responded: 'Ons is sampioene!'

Like all his professorial predecessors in Economics at Stellenbosch, Prof Terreblanche also got involved with processes of policy formulation. Between 1973 and 1976 he was a member of the Erika Theron Commission that investigated issues related to the coloured population of South Africa. From 1979 until 1985 he was a member the Prime Minister's Council for Economic Advice. Terreblanche's involvement in the Theron Commission triggered his interest in the nature and causes of poverty.

The collection of books that Prof Terreblanche has published comprise mainly textbooks for the History of Economics and History of Economic Thought. Also, besides about twenty articles in academic journals and several chapters in books, his strong involvement in party politics is reflected in the hundreds of articles that he has written for local and foreign newspapers on political and economic issues in South Africa. For such political involvement he has received a great deal of criticism. Since retiring at the end of 1995, he has concentrated on studying the political and economical history of South Africa while still working as a part-time lecturer in the Department until 2011. He received honorary doctorates from the Universities of Free State, Pretoria and Stellenbosch.

Prof Terreblanche 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. 

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