First annual Francis Wilson Memorial Lecture

22 June 2023

Dear colleagues and students

I write to invite you to the first annual Francis Wilson Memorial Lecture, which will be hosted in partnership with the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) and DataFirst.

The late Emeritus Professor Wilson, who founded SALDRU in 1975, was among the most pre-eminent economic researchers of his time. His work, combined with a strong social conscience, made him a leading voice for economic justice in apartheid South Africa, exposing the hardship and poverty caused by the migrant labour system and the mining industry. Under his leadership, Professor Wilson put SALDRU and UCT on the map as a leading centre producing hard evidence on poverty, inequality and unemployment.

In 2001, Professor Wilson founded DataFirst, which has produced a wealth of survey and administrative data accessible by researchers and policymakers.

Professor Wilson wrote prolifically – from his book Migrant Labour in the Gold Mines, published in 1972, until just two years before his death in 2022. His last article was a plea for a Sovereign Wealth Fund to address the historic injustices wrought on the southern African region by the mining industry. In one of his last messages to students when he received an honorary doctorate in 2016, he reminded them of his own lodestar in research: “What is needed are hearts on fire and heads on ice”.

It is therefore fitting that the first annual Francis Wilson Memorial Lecture will be delivered by Professor Sir Angus Deaton FBA, a senior scholar and a Dwight D Eisenhower Emeritus Professor of Economics and International Affairs at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs; and the Economics Department, also at Princeton University. Professor Deaton was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his analysis of consumption, poverty and welfare and was a personal friend of Professor Wilson.

He will present a lecture titled “The politics of numbers: economists confront poverty and inequality”.

The lecture will be held in a hybrid format, however the venue is at capacity and therefore only online registrations are still being accepted.

Professor Deaton’s connection to Professor Wilson and South African research stretches back to the 1980s, and was especially close to Wilson during the 1993 Project for Statistics on Living Standards and Development, which was South Africa’s first nationally representative household survey conducted under the auspices of SALDRU. He was a key advisor on that project. He used its information to highlight the importance of South Africa’s old age pension for improving welfare in a series of seminal articles with Anne Case.

His current research focuses on the determinants of health in rich and poor countries, as well as on the measurement of poverty and inequality in the US, India and around the world. He maintains a long-standing interest in the analysis of household surveys and is also interested in what randomised controlled trials can and cannot do. His book with Anne Case, Deaths of despair and the future of capitalism, was a New York Times bestseller in 2020.

Please join us at this lecture to gain more insights from Professor Deaton as he shares some thoughts on economists and their role in policy.


Emer Prof Daya Reddy
Vice-Chancellor (interim)

This announcement has been updated since it was first distributed: the venue for in-person attendance is now at capacity, so only online registrations are still being accepted.

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