The social structure of accumulation (SSA) framework has been used to explain the dynamics of the South African economy under apartheid. Specifically, SSA analysis provides an explanation of why, after decades of rapid capital accumulation following the establishment of the apartheid state in 1948, the South African economy entered a period of economic crisis, beginning in the mid-1970s (e.g., Gelb 1987). The SSA approach offers an alternative to liberal explanations of the crisis years, which see apartheid and capitalism as antagonistic systems, and to traditional Marxist analysis, which argues that apartheid and capitalism were mutually reinforcing. However, the SSA approach, as it has been applied to South Africa, has been criticized for a lack of empirical rigor and a tendency toward functionalist arguments (Nattrass 1994). This chapter reexamines this critique and offers an empirical foundation for the SSA framework as it has been applied to apartheid South Africa.
If SSA analysis is relevant for understanding apartheid capitalism, can the same approach be applied to the economic transition in post-apartheid South Africa? Electoral democracy helped restore social stability after years of unrest, but, at the time of transition, the widespread deprivation that was the legacy of apartheid remained. This created a conundrum for capital: political stability needed to be restored, but doing so could unleash redistributive pressures unfavorable to business interests.