College of Graduate Studies

Rethinking of a new Africa

“Few authors have been able to write on Africa without making constant references to ‘tribalism’. Could this be the distinguishing feature of the continent? Or is it merely a reflection of the system of perceptions of those who write on Africa and of their African ‘converts’?”

Prof Crain Soudien (CEO: HSRC), Prof Lesiba Teffo (Political analyst, Unisa), Dr Ibbo Mandaza (Academic and politician), Dr Claudious Chikozho (ED: Africa Institute of South Africa Programme, HSRC), Dr Bongani Nyoka (Education and Skills Development Unit, HSRC), Prof Vuyisile Msila (Director: Change Management Unit, Unisa), Prof Wendy Isaacs-Martin (AMRI, Unisa), and Sandile Swana (Nephew of Prof Archie Mafeje, representing the Mafeje family)

Delivering the Archie Mafeje Memorial Lecture at Unisa on 28 March 2018, eminent African scholar Dr Ibbo Mandaza said that Archie Mafeje had influenced in no small measure the subsequent generation of African scholars towards a greater understanding of Southern African society with the critique and rejection of pluralism as the precondition of such studies.

Organised by Unisa’s Archie Mafeje Research Institute (AMRI) and the Human Science Research Council’s (HSRC) Africa Institute of South Africa (AISA), this annual lecture marked the 11th year since the passing of Professor Archibald Monwabisi Mafeje with the theme: ‘Rethinking intellectualism, intellectual spaces, and methodologies’.

Presenting his address, entitled Reflections on Professor Archie Mafeje 11 years on, Mandaza said that the memorial lecture should be used to both consider how to intensify the struggle to overcome these challenges through an organised strategy, and reflect on this giant, his contribution to intellectualism in Africa and beyond, and the enduring relevance of his intellectual interventions in the contemporary political economy of Africa in general and Southern Africa in particular.

“The history of Pan Africanism is characterised by seesaw-like shifts in emphasis as continental or diasporic issues have become dominant,” he said. “In Africa, as elsewhere, diasporas have played an important role in the reinvention and revitalisation of the ‘homeland’ identity and sense of itself. And today, with the increased capacity to participate in the political life of their homelands, there can be no doubt that the diaspora will be even immediate to the rethinking of a new Africa.”

Mandaza pointed out that, while pan-Africanism started a ‘stateless’ and nationless movement, since the 1958 conference in Accra it had had to reconcile its more transcendental agenda with the national agenda of new states and nations. “Since then the new agenda of pan-Africanism has been much messier than its earlier variants, leading some to nostalgically long for the ‘Golden Days’ when the Pan-Africanism message, task, and articulation were much more coherent and straightforward and with a moral sway that was unchallenged.”

According to Mandaza, the sheer size of the continent and dispersion of peoples of African descent has meant that the pan-Africanist project has had to come to terms with a wide range of identities, interests, and concerns, which include gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, race, and geographical location. “However, I do not believe that the failure of pan-Africanism can be attributed to a lack of identification with Africa by Africans chauvinistically mired in their diverse identities, as is often stated. Nor is it because individual countries have firmly established successful national identities that somehow militate against the pan-African ideal.”

‘Africa’, he said, was probably the most emotionally evoked name of any continent. “Its people sing about it, paint it, and wear it more than any continent. Its artists produce hundreds of icons of this much ‘beloved continent’. Every major African singer has sung at least one song about Africa. Even national anthems often evoke Africa much more than individual country names.”

“So, is it not this status of being both ‘stateless’ and ‘nationless’ that defines the Pan African scholar that was Archie Mafeje, as much in the man himself as in his work? That is his enduring relevance, Archie Mafeje’s legacy,” he concluded.

The Archie Mafeje Memorial Lecture commemorates the academic and intellectual contribution of the late Professor Archibald Monwabisi Mafeje, one of the most gifted social science researchers and scholars to emerge in Africa in the last century. Mafeje was a towering intellectual who contributed to the contemporary African and global social research terrain. This lecture seeks to perpetuate Mafeje’s legacy of critical and engaged scholarship in support of progressive agendas of social transformation in the developing world.

Follow the conversation on #AMML2018.

You can read the full lecture here.

*Compiled by Lesego Ravhudzulo and Sharon Farrell