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.
Sampie 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.
His critique of the ANC’s economic policy was long in the making as Sampie wrestled over his extensive academic career as a political economist with apartheid’s economic injustice, which he came to fear, may theoretically be too entrenched to overcome without a tearing down of elite structures. This theoretical perspective was paralleled by his intense involvement in processes that marked the attempted transition out of the morass of racial capitalism.