Interrogating the logic of accumulation in the sugar sector in Southern Africa
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Over the last 20 years sugar production in southern Africa has been characterised by both the geographic dispersal and the heightened concentration of (formerly) South African sugar capital. This paper argues that key variations in the contours of corporate accumulation in the region can be explained through dynamics generated by two sets of interacting variables: (i) the changing productivity of sugar manufacturing and sugar cane cultivation, and the interaction between them, and (ii) shifting terms of pricing and exchange, as governed by mercantile politics. An arithmetic model for the analysis of data is applied in the case of Illovo Sugar. It shows that high profits in Malawi are due to both favourable mercantile and productivity features; that Mozambican profits come exclusively from mercantilism; that Tanzania, Swaziland and especially Zambia owe their relative profitability to particularly high levels of productivity, and that South Africa, Illovo’s country of origin, receives low profits in both mercantile and productivity terms. These differences are rooted in value relations, which are core to understanding accumulation in sugar. The paper argues that, although the logic of sugar is somewhat unique, the approach to the analysis of accumulation adopted here has wider application.