Renowned economist and academic, Mahavishnu Padayachee, dies

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Professor Vishnu Padayachee 
Professor by Wits School of Economic and Business Sciences
Professor Vishnu Padayachee Professor by Wits School of Economic and Business Sciences
  • Economist and activist Professor Mahavishnu Padayachee has died.
  • The academic, who was employed at Wits University, was renowned for his research.
  • He was described as a longstanding activist of the mass democratic movement. 

Tributes have poured in for renowned economist and activist, Professor Mahavishnu Padayachee, who died over the weekend.

The Wits academic died on Saturday at the age of 69, after an academic career that spanned four decades.

According to IOL, Padayachee had been diagnosed with cancer several years ago. However, the cause of his death is unclear.

"His passing has come as a shock to many who worked with him as a world-class academic and researcher over the last 40 years. A distinguished Professor at Wits University, Padayachee joined Wits in 2014 and most recently served as the Derek Schrier and Cecily Cameron Chair in Development Economics in the Wits School of Economics and Finance," the university said in a statement.


Padayachee was renowned for his research in economics, economic history, economic transformation, and development, having written around 10 books and monographs.

"A sought-after supervisor, Padayachee served as a mentor to many postgraduate students. He was currently working with postgraduate students on research related to economic policy debates, macroeconomic and monetary policy issues in post-apartheid South Africa, democratic politics and economic policymaking in South Africa, and business, corporations and society in the Global South in the 21st Century," the university said.

The ANC described Padayachee as:

An outstanding scholar, a progressive academic and a long-standing activist of the mass democratic movement.


"Padayachee dedicated most of his intellectual life to the struggle for social justice and the reconstruction and development of South Africa. Throughout his academic journey, Padayachee distinguished himself as a world-class academic and researcher, especially in the field of economics, economic history, economic transformation, and development," ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe said.

"The ANC conveys its heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and the entire mass democratic movement. We wish them strength and fortitude during this difficult time."


As a young lecturer, Padayachee worked closely with the democratic trade union movement in the 1980s and served as a member of the Economic Trends group, which provided research support to the union movement. He was a leading member of the Macroeconomic Research Group, which provided support to the mass democratic movement in the early 1990s, prior to the political transition in 1994. In 1995, then President Nelson Mandela appointed him to the board of the South African Reserve Bank.

READ | Prof Lourens du Plessis who cowrote draft Constitution, Bill of Rights dies

Padayachee received numerous honours. He was a member of the Royal Society of South Africa, the Academy of Science of South Africa, and the Institute of Directors of South Africa.

He received an honorary Doctorate in Economics from Rhodes University in 2018, and is a lifetime fellow and Professor Emeritus at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), a fellow of the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies, and a lifetime fellow of the Society of Scholars at Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore and Washington DC).


The Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ) posted on social media that it mourned his death.

"For decades, Vishnu has been one of SA's leading progressive economists. Shortly before his passing, he told IEJ's director [Gilad Isaacs] how pleased he was to see a new, young generation of economists working towards economic justice in SA. We hope to honour his memory by contributing, alongside many others, towards such work. May he rest in peace," the post said.


An avid book and art collector, Padayachee was the co-owner of iconic Durban second-hand bookshop Ike's Books and Collectables.


A passionate follower of cricket, he published widely on cricket and served on the board of the United Cricket Board.

"He was a genuine, meticulous human being who impacted positively on the lives of students, colleagues, and South Africans - he transformed society for the better. He was a mentor to many students and colleagues who have gone on to excel in academic institutions around the world," Wits said.


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