A questioning mind rests

The development economist Guy Mhone, a Wits professor of public and development management, passed away at a Pretoria hospital on Tuesday, at the age of 62.

Born in Luanshya, Zambia, and raised along the border with Malawi (the country of his citizenship), Mhone resisted colonial Central African Federation repression and then the brutality of the Banda era.

His early education was at Gloag Ranch Mission in Zimbabwe and Livingstonia Secondary School and Junior College in Malawi. He excelled, winning both the national student essay competition and a scholarship to the Ivy League’s Dartmouth College in New Hampshire in the United States. His masters and doctoral degrees in economics were awarded by Syracuse University in New York.

While completing his thesis on The Legacy of the Dual Labour Market in the Copper Industry in Zambia (1977), he also served as associate professor at the State University of New York. He later lectured at the New School for Social Research in New York, Howard University in Washington DC, and the University of Zimbabwe, before coming to Wits graduate school of public and development management as a full professor in 1998. He was formerly also director of the school.

Mhone earned a reputation as a prolific and insightful analyst of social and economic problems across Southern Africa. He worked for the International Labour Organisation in Lusaka, Harare and Maseru; the Southern African Political Economic Series Trust in Harare; and the South African Department of Labour, where he was chief director for research in the first post-apartheid government. He also worked for numerous international agencies, for the Belize Ministry of Finance, and for the New York Treasury.

Books he authored, co-authored and edited included The Political Economy of a Dual Labour Market in Africa (1982); Malawi at the Crossroads (1992); The Case for Sustainable Development in Zimbabwe (1992); The Informal Sector in Southern Africa (1997) and Governance and Globalisation (2003). He published dozens of articles and chapters in major journals and academic books, on structural adjustment, labour markets, agriculture, industrialisation, the informal sector, women workers, HIV/Aids and other facets of socio-economic policy. He worked in and wrote about every country in the region.

Throughout, Mhone’s gentle temperament, quiet dignity, extensive experience, courage and powerful intellectual contributions — especially his theory of Africa’s dysfunctional “enclave” economies — inspired colleagues and students. He explored the limits of neo-classical economics applied to African conditions and, in the process, questioned dogmas associated with labour- and capital-market theory.

His last major address to his professional colleagues was 10 weeks ago, as the concluding plenary speaker at an Addis Ababa economics conference. With characteristic humility and patience, he carefully balanced social-justice instincts and rigorous economic analysis, fusing conference themes on rural development with his own long-standing inquiries into links between workers and peasants; capitalism and non-capitalist spheres; the capital-intensive sectors and the mass of underutilised labour.

In the process, Mhone revived the best of the Fifties development economics subdiscipline, and merged into it highly-sophisticated critiques of mainstream economic theory established during the 1960s and 1970s, and policy lessons of later neoliberal failures. His contributions will be valued for generations to come.

He is survived by his wife Yvonne Wilson and two children, Tamara and Zimema.

Guy Mhone: born December 20 1942; died March 1 2005

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