Inspired by leaders who have the power to serve the common good, and actually do, it comes as no surprise that alumna, Dr Sansia Blackmore, would like to meet New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. “She not only embodies intelligent leadership, but more importantly, the empathetic kind of leadership that may unite and advance any society. Alas, modern politics tells of many democratically elected leaders who paradoxically do not prioritise societal interests. Our own democratic experience, but other countries' as well, notably the US', drove home that democratic constitutions and institutions are not an adequate bulwark against self-interested political leadership; individual leaders matter importantly,” she stresses. Read more about her sterling academic career at UP, her source of inspiration and future goals.
Q: Briefly summarise your career since graduating from UP, with special mention of specific highlights/milestones.
A: I have been fortunate to have the proverbial two bites at the cherry in terms of my academic career. The first was in the Department of Economics, where I completed a DCom in Exchange Rate Economics in 1998. Although I resigned my full-time position to explore opportunities in private practice for about two decades, I retained close ties with academia and UP, and when an opportunity to resume full-time involvement arose in 2017, I accepted it gladly.
This time round, I work in the African Tax Institute and given the lapse of time since I was last an active academic, I felt it necessary to complete a PhD in Tax Policy to be able to supervise master’s and doctoral students in the various interfaces between taxation and development, poverty reversal, state capacity, governance and human empowerment.
Q: To what extent did your studies at UP benefit you in your career and contribute to your success?
A: In addition to a solid academic foundation that I believe all the degree courses at UP offer, a number of outstanding mentors have made a profound and lasting impression on me during my years of study. During my early studies, late professors Geert de Wet and Mike Truu both had a strong formative influence, not just on me but I believe on a generation of economics students at UP.
At the African Tax Institute, I am fortunate to work with internationally renowned experts at UP like professors Riël Franzsen and Reneé van Eyden, which is immensely stimulating. The African Tax Institute has, over the years, fostered close ties with international experts in various fields of taxation, whose active involvement in tuition and research supervision creates a dynamic environment for both staff and students.
Q: Given your academic experience at UP, what advice can you pass on to current students?
A: My most recent experience with post-graduate study was a harsh reminder that working towards a PhD presents moments of ecstasy, but many more of agony. While challenging under any conditions, it remains a highly personalised process given the divergent, competing demands on everyone's time; there is no algorithm to do this quickly. What did prove helpful, was to maintain mental proximity to my research: even if writing is interrupted, thinking does not have to be. It helps if you are truly invested in your topic!
Q: Which business/trade-related publications (magazines/newspapers/blogs, etc) do you enjoy reading?
A: I follow the political and economic news of the day on any (or all!) of the electronic feeds from both local and offshore news agencies; the writings of analysts Dr Ralph Mathekga and Judith February are always insightful, as are the tweets of great minds like Paul Krugman, Daron Acemoglu, Christian Welzel and Bill Gates.
Q: What really inspires and motivates you personally?
A: I am motivated by academic research that finds a conduit towards the shared global issues that continue to challenge us all - socially, economically and politically. Poverty persistence is one such multi-dimensional issue; politics remains central as a cause in a phenomenon that casts such long social shadows on generations of societies. Also, the COVID-19 pandemic has driven many uncomfortable truths to the surface and the close bond between poverty and human tragedy is certainly prominent among them. The nature of our interaction with our environment and with wildlife, in particular, is also starkly delineated in this global experience. On a personal level, I am deeply conscious of our custodianship of Africa's wildlife and our ethical responsibility to safeguard it against commercial exploitation and the concomitant drive to extinction. It will be a travesty if we still do not get that after 2020.
Q: If you could have a face-to-face meeting with an inspiring person – in any domain – who sets an example in transforming the world and inspiring others to do the same, who would it be and what would you like to discuss?
A: I am inspired by leaders that have the power to serve the common good, and actually do. Modern politics tells of many democratically elected leaders who paradoxically do not prioritise societal interests. Our own democratic experience, but other countries' as well, notably the US’, drove home that democratic constitutions and institutions are not an adequate bulwark against self-interested political leadership; individual leaders matter importantly. I would like to meet Jacinda Ardern; she embodies the intelligent and empathetic kind of leadership that may unite and advance any society.
Q: Going forward, what are your career/personal goals?
A: Having made a late comeback to academia, I am very aware of the opportunities for educators and researchers to have a voice in the compelling social and political issues we face. To be a part of the team at the African Tax Institute aligns perfectly with my own goals and interests; that is, to assist with advances in tax policy and governance in developing countries that are central to the achievement of all development objectives and, idealistically speaking, also to the large goals of human empowerment and liberal democracy.
Q: Lastly: COVID-19 has dealt the South African economy a devastating blow. Are you optimistic that the country will be able to rise from the proverbial ashes?
A: Nations have through the course of history displayed astounding bounce-back ability; recovery from COVID-19 is possible. South Africa has to accomplish it from a very eroded economic base, however. The recovery will be highly dependent on the policy response, which would have to prioritise growth, and more growth. More of the same policies of the past two decades simply will not cut it, nor can we afford to fail on implementation.