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1 December 2021
Inaugural Ben Turok Memorial Lecture sets challenge for developing countries
Renowned Cambridge University development economist Professor Ha-Joon Chang has called on developing countries to challenge mainstream neo-liberal economic theory to find alternative ways of driving transformation and growth. 

In a lecture, co-hosted by UWC’s Institute for Social Development (ISD) and the Institute for African Alternatives (IFAA), he said South Africa and countries of a similar profile must stop believing that “structural factors” constrain the options open to the developing world.

He challenged the developing world to think beyond the Structural Adjustment Programmes, liberalisation of international trade and investments, de-regulation, privatisation and other neoliberal policies that dominate policy-making in much of the developing world and come up with new ways to change the world for the better.

Chang (pictured) was the keynote speaker at the inaugural Ben Turok Memorial Lecture held at Community House in Salt River on 30 November 2021. He spoke on Structural Transformation and Sustainability – the Changing Role of the State in Developing Countries. 

Paying tribute to the late former MP and struggle stalwart, Turok, who passed away two years ago, he concluded his lecture by saying, “in the spirit with which Ben Turok lived his distinguished life, the first step in making the world a better place is to challenge conventional wisdom about what is possible”.

Chang spoke of the increased inequality and economic instability generated under neoliberalism, the many major financial crises across the globe since the 2008 global financial crisis and the failure of neoliberalism to generate economic growth fast enough. He said these contributed to growth slowdown, which has been most dramatic in developing regions, especially those that have faithfully pursued neoliberal policies – forced to do so by the loan conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

The progressive development state could advance trade and industrial policies that promote structural transformation, and think of ways to regulate foreign direct investment (FDI) and global value chains (GVCs) that will develop their economies, said Chang. 

He warned, however, that the benefits of FDI can only be fully reaped if there are appropriate regulations regarding ownership, local sourcing, technology transfer, research and development and worker training.

The state in developing countries must pursue economic, political, social and of course, environmental sustainability by focusing on building production capabilities instead of simply accessing their natural resources, and by integrating the productive economy and the reproductive economy (mostly done by women, unpaid or for very low wages), while building a citizenship-based welfare state.

IFAA together with the ISD and the International Relations Office from the University of the Western Cape collaboratively hosted this event to commemorate the contribution of Ben Turok to the development community and the discourse and practice on socioeconomic alternatives for development in South Africa and Africa as a whole. The ISD and IFAA have formally entered into a collaborative relationship to strengthen the ties for a socially just society through the development of a cohort of new scholars equipped with the cognitive tools to give voice to the marginalised through progressive and alternative approaches to economic and social development. It is with this spirit that we are co-hosting this event.

Through our collaboration we will strive to offer progressive perspectives on social and economic policies, stimulate debate and discussion on issues of national importance, advocate for an open and inclusive society, and provide a platform for youth to explore ideas on decolonising Africa.