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Archie championed the pan-Africanist ideal that Africans should speak for themselves and understand themselves through their own efforts. As an anthropologist he made immense contributions to a better understanding of African people, their achievements and struggles. In a continent where the academy is often oupied by fence-sitters and academic cowards, Archie’s thought is an outstanding challenge.

Karl Marx concludes his work on ‘theses on Feuerbach’ by stating that ‘the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.’[1] He must have realized that ‘out of nothing, nothing comes’[2] and therefore, change is trans-generational. Archibald Mafeje is one of the African giants that influenced change in the understanding, teaching and learning of the discipline of Anthropology and thus should not be forgotten. He did not only interpret the world of the black people, and the colonised, but also challenged and changed its perspectives. We can proudly acclaim him as a giant of this discipline in South Africa and the African continent.

Archibald Monwabisi Mafeje, affectionately referred to as Archie, was born in the Eastern Cape, on 30 March 1936. He died in Pretoria on 28 March 2007 two days before his birthday. ‘He contributed immensely to the African people’s search for self-understanding, self-determination and political emancipation as they struggled against alienation and misrepresentation. He did this through his role as an African scholar, intellectual, thinker, and academic.’[3] To this end, Professor Dani Wadada Nabudere writes that, ‘in this role, Mafeje did an excellent job and left a heritage which future young scholars and thinkers will have to complete.’[4]

In contributing to the completion of the task Prof Nabudere laid bare for this generation, and towards memorialisation and preservation of the ideas and works of Archie Mafeje, the Africa Institute of South Africa (AISA), one of the Human Sciences Research Council’s (HSRC) research programmes, together with the Archie Mafeje Research Institute (AMRI) hosts and celebrates annually the Archie Mafeje Memorial Lecture. This lecture is an epitome of the exercise to ensure trans-generational change on the production of knowledge on various disciplines; an exercise to decolonize academic discourses and a proper understanding of African societies. Archie is one of the African giants whose ideas and works can serve as an anchor of change to be pursued by the present generation, especially on issues of racism, changing the patters of ownership and control of the economy and decolonisation of academia in general.

South Africa is grappling with the discourse on racism, ownership and control of the economy, redistribution of land and the control over knowledge production and application. Thus this is an opportune moment to sit and reflect on the life and times of Archie as a figure that embodied principles of self-introspection and self-consciousness. Archie believed ‘in championing the pan-Africanist ideal that Africans should speak for themselves and understand themselves through their own efforts’.[5] This is very important because many scholars in the current democratic dispensation fear to write from a particular point of view; many fear to boldly put it in their writing that they are writing for a particular cause which they strongly believe in. In essence, scholarship is occupied by fence-sitters and academic cowards. In the introduction he authored for the book, ‘The Disenfranchised: Perspectives on the History of Elections in South Africa’, Archie unashamedly responds to views that might emerge in future about the lack of perspectives of whites in the book project. He notes that ‘it is fair and necessary to emphasise that the perspectives projected in these essays are those of people who previously suffered disenfranchisement by virtue of their colour, sex or both. What is pertinent here is that this category of South African citizens had been rendered voiceless. It is, therefore, to be expected that their perspective would be different from that of those who were responsible for their suppression. In writing about social issues in the present or the past there is always a subjective dimension, no matter who is writing.’[6] This clearly shows that Archie was never afraid or ashamed to put his honest view across, no matter how biased and subjective they may have been perceived to be. He understood very well that scholarship is not a neutral exercise; that as a scholar, your background, class, colour and gender influence your mental attitude and interpretation of social issues, thus it is important to always write in a way that you speak for yourself. It is also important for institutions conducting social research to be inspired by the fearlessness of scholars such as Archie. They serve as shoulders of giants present academic dwarfs can stand on.

There is great appreciation of the fact that knowledge space is not a neutral terrain. According to Professor Dani Wadada Nabudere, Archie Mafeje intellectually understood his political, economic and social environment, thus understood his role and nature of the contribution towards the liberation of Africans from the imperial forces, intellectually and academically. Prof Nabudere states that ‘the European enslavement and colonisation of Africa was about the control of knowledge about Africa. Africa became the battleground for the production of knowledge regarding Africa and the rest of the world, for it became apparent that the determination by imperialist powers to gain control over African human and natural resources was, at grassroots level, a struggle for political power and control over the human minds they tried to colonise. It was a struggle by the imperialist ‘self’ to dominate the colonised ‘other’, the ‘other’ in this case being the Africans and other oppressed peoples of the world.’[7] This battle of controlling the human mind and knowledge production is still ensuing in various institutions of higher learning in South Africa.

The Archie Mafeje Lecture has a responsibility of serving as a platform in which the impact of the negotiated settlement should be assessed in relation to the imperial control of human minds in South Africa and the African continent. It will be disillusional to think that the struggle for the control of human minds and education was won by the majority in 1994 in South Africa. The same argument can be advanced about the state of intellectualism in the continent post-independence years. Many questions arise on this discourse: Are the South African intellectuals fit to decolonise the knowledge and understanding about South Africa? Have they managed to gain control over the knowledge production of the Republic and the rest of the continent? Are the universities in South Africa deracialised intellectually? These are some of the questions the speakers at the Lecture should deliberate upon. A critical assessment of the state of intellectualism in the Republic and the continent needs to be done and this is a great opportunity for that. A platform for intellectuals, Archie Mafeje Lecture, by knowledge producing institutions, HSRC and AMRI, to introspect the work the intellectuals are doing is a fitting tribute to the work, life and times of Archie Mafeje.

HSRC prides itself as a research council that is ‘solving social problems through research’ which inevitably is an exercise emanating from the influences of people like Archie Mafeje, Can Temba, E’skia Mphahlele and many more of the world-renowned South African academics. Mafeje is also respected in the African continent. He is one of the founders of the Council for Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) and was recognised and honoured as its ‘life member’ in 2003. Many scholars hold him in high reverence. At the time of his passing on the 28 March 2007, he was referred to by many respectable titles and descriptions in a special issue titled ‘Archie Mafeje: A Giant Has Moved On’, a special issue of the CODESRIA Bulletin. Kwesi Prah referred to him as a ‘vignette’ and a ‘vibrant… citizen of the world’. Katherine Salahi described him as a ‘Renaissance man’; Adebayo Olukoshi and Francis Nyamnjoh described Mafeje as ‘the quintessential personality of science’. Issa Shivji called him ‘a man of intellectual rigour and integrity’.[8]

The HSRC together with the Archie Mafeje Research Institute (AMRI) unashamedly and unapologetically celebrate the life of this giant. The memorialisation of Archie would not be the romentisication of history, but a true reflection of the past events, the interrogation of the state of scholarship in Africa and South Africa, assessement of the quality of scholars in South Africa and the rest of the continent. It will be a moment of not only analysing the political, economic and social state of affairs in South Africa but a true reflection and assessment of the Afro-centric scholarship. The Lecture shall be addressed by two highly regarded individuals in South Africa and the continent. It shall be held at University of South Africa’s Kgorong Building. UNISA also holds Archie with high regard, with a research centre named after this giant, Archie Mafeje Research Institute (AMRI). It is no doubt that Archie Mafeje has made his mark in “interpreting the world” from an African perspective.

He also challenged and changed the wrong perspectives about Africa and Africans in general. He was a bold local voice for the marginalised and colonised in the discussions and interrogations of Western education and its decolonisation project. Prof Nabudere regarded him as one of the ‘African intellectual pathfinders’[9] considering his role in the decolonisation project. He was never ashamed of his views and the class he was representing, thus it would be a great error to forget him when discussing such important discourses of racism, class and gender. One of the greatest traits of Archie is the fact that he was not afraid to break rank. He didn’t only enjoy to sharply criticise those in the antagonistic class and race pursuing racism and colonisation of the black population. He even criticised his own: those he wrote and spoke for. Nabudere states that “he also noted that social order grounded on racial capitalism - not simply ‘white domination - constituted the major problem facing black South Africans. This self-reflection had enabled Mafeje to raise some fundamental questions concerning the alienated Africans. He had posed the questions: ‘Does “social change” or “being civilised” mean, unambiguously, being assimilated into the white middle-class cosmic view’? This became the line of analysis of the South African scene in which he increasingly found himself radicalised and distrusted by the mainstream political classes in the African National Congress.

As we have also seen, he increasingly became critical of the Unity Movement and the New Unity Movement, with which he had at first been associated politically.[10] This point, raised by Nabudere, highlights the hatred Archie had against sycophancy and hero-worship of even one of your own. Archie fashioned scholarship in this manner.

One of the reasons why Archie Mafeje has to be celebrated, and the significance of his Lecture, is the fact that he was racially excluded and prejudiced from being an academic staff member of the University of Cape Town (UCT). This exercise is not aimed at glorifying and ignoring shortcomings of Archie as a person, but as a platform to reflect on his ideas and his work and how to make it applicable to the realities of the day. UCT is one of the respected universities in the world. However, it had in the past succumbed to the pressures of apartheid government on the appointment of its staff. It remains to be discovered whether it stood its ground on impartial academic content.

Mafeje was supposed to have been appointed at UCT in 1968 as a Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology, however, the apartheid government expressed its reservations against this appoint, and ultimately Mafeje was not appointed. [11] More interesting is his continued desire to return to his alma mater in the 1990s following the unbanning of liberation movements, and the arrogance and gatekeeping by other academics at the UCT. Mafeje serves a true reflection of the flaws of the reconciliation process in the country. That this process was openly pursued by the victims of repression than the perpetrators. It was a political project than an honest and necessary process for the nation-building. The reconciliation process was window-dressing particularly at former white universities. The injustices of the past against black scholars cannot be wished away and forgotten. Prof Ntsebeza captured the apology of the university to Prof Majefe thus,

“We record therefore that significant opportunities were lost during the period of South Africa's transition to democracy to bring a very significant African scholar home to UCT. In this the University showed a serious lack of sensitivity, and it is a matter of profound regret that Professor Mafeje’s life ended with these matters unresolved. The University now wishes to apologise to Professor Mafeje’s family that it did not make a committed effort to secure a place for Professor Mafeje at UCT, and that it may even have acted in a way that prejudiced Prof. Mafeje a second time in the 1990’s. UCT also reiterates its regret regarding the Council’s decision under government pressure to withdraw the appointment as senior lecturer in 1968.”[12]

The Lecture seeks to address the question of deracialisation and decolonisation of academic spaces in the institutions of higher learning in South Africa. The very same UCT has been under serious rebellion by students against the symbolising of white supremacy present at the university, including its lack of transformation in the academic staff at senior level to reflect the demographics of the Republic. This process should not be mistaken as window-dressing, but a thorough institutional transformation, not only for UCT but for all former white institutions.

As a response to the clarion call of Karl Marx on changing the world from the interpretations of philosophers, the annual Archie Mafeje lecture would be held under the theme “In search of alternative knowledge applications: appreciation of Archie Mafeje’s works, life and times”. This theme appreciates the fact that alternative knowledge of Africa and the oppressed in the rest of the world has been explored, produced and interpreted, thus the responsibility of the current scholarship is to explore its alternative ways of application. It deliberately assess the hindrances towards the application of ideas of people of Archie’s caliber in the country and the continent. It is authored elsewhere that the works of intellectuals are not fully appreciated in the continent, particularly on its development plans and policies. It is as if to mean that intellectuals are marginalised from the running of the state and the society in general. To this end, intellectualism needs to be properly located and constructed in the Republic and the African continent. Thus the lecture would seek to address this problem. Memorialisation of Mafeje is not a sycophantic exercise celebrating the character of Archie, but a platform to deeply reflect, honestly and intellectually about the social issues, academia and politics in general. It’s a self-introspection exercise by South Africa and African academics about their contribution to the solution of African problems.

* Frank Lekaba is a Researcher in the Governance and Security programme, Africa Institute of South Africa in Human Sciences Research Council. He graduated with a Master of Social Sciences from the North West University. His research interests include international political economy, international relations and transformation of global governance structures.


[1] Marx, K. 1886. Theses on Feuerbach. Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy. Progresas Publishers, Moscow. Accessed on (06/01/2016)
[2] Mbeki, T. 1978. Historical Injustice. Seminar, 19-22 February 1978, Ottawa, Canada.
[3] Nabudere, D. W. 2011. Archie Mafeje: Scholar, Activist and Thinker. AISA, Pretoria.
[4] Ibid
[5] The Disenfranchised: Perspectives on the History of Elections in South Africa. UNISA Press, Pretoria.
[6] Ibid
[7] Nabudere, D. W. 2011. Archie Mafeje: Scholar, Activist and Thinker. AISA, Pretoria.
[8] Ibid
[9] Ibid
[10] Ibid
[11] Ntsebeza, M. The Mafeje and UCT saga: Unfinished business? Accessed on 18-01-2015.
[12] Ibid



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