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UKZN Doctoral Graduate Wins Prestigious Economics Award

2014/12/08 10:21:15 AM

Economics doctoral graduate Mr Justin Visagie has been awarded the prestigious Economics Society of South Africa’s (ESSA) PhD Founders’ medal for the best postgraduate dissertation in economics in South Africa.

Mr Justin Visagie.

The gold-plated medal is awarded to a doctoral candidate whose thesis contributes significantly to and provides evidence of original economics and outstanding quality research conducted in the field of economics at a South African university.

Visagie, who is the Director of Economic Planning and Research at the Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism in the Eastern Cape, graduated with his PhD from the College of Law and Management Studies this year.

Supervised by Professor Dori Posel, the title of his thesis was: “The Development of the Middle Class in South Africa since the Transition to Democracy”, which investigated the development of the middle class in post-apartheid South Africa.

Visagie said the aim of his research was to show there were competing definitions of middle class which did not reconcile in a developing country context.

‘Those who have a “middle-class” lifestyle are actually at the top of the South African income distribution, whilst those in the real middle, border on poverty. My research focused on how these two middle class groups progressed over the first 20 years of democracy. Interestingly, whilst the affluent middle class became more multi-racial, this was driven by declining numbers of Whites against increasing numbers of Africans,’ he said.

‘At the same time income became more polarised and tightly concentrated in the upper class - in the top 3% of the distribution. Those in the actual middle showed the slowest income growth of all groups. A multivariate and decomposition investigation into the probability of affluence between Africans and Whites suggests that rising Black affluence is driven by positive increases in the levels of characteristics associated with affluence, rather than any change in the returns to these characteristics.’

This is not the first time Visagie’s excellence in research has earned him an award from ESSA as his masters dissertation titled: “Changes in Household Composition Since the End of Apartheid: An Analysis of Household Composition and Well-Being”, also supervised by Posel, earned him the Society’s Founder’s Medal for the Best Honours and Masters dissertation in South Africa in 2011.        

‘This award would never have happened without my supervisor Professor Posel - she is a genius. Her master craftsmanship continuously guided me through to the end, even when I was struggling to see the way through. I cannot overemphasise her role in shaping my thesis and career in economics. I am so privileged to have had her invest her talent in me.

‘A lot of energy was put into finishing strong, so it was well packaged and polished at the end. I think the focus was also good throughout and the topic on the middle class in South Africa is both interesting and relevant,’ said Visagie.

Posel said she was proud of Visagie’s achievement which sees him join a number of her students who have won the ESSA PhD Founders’ medal under her supervision.

‘It’s an excellent achievement as there is considerable competition. It is very important recognition for the student, the supervisor, and the quality of research undertaken.’

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