BOOK REVIEW | The Social and Political Thought of Archie Mafeje


A Pan-African social scientist ahead of his time

By Bongani Nyoka

Social scientist Archie Mafeje, who was born in the Eastern Cape but lived most of his scholarly life in exile, was one of Africa’s most prominent intellectuals. This ground breaking book is the first to consider the entire body of Mafeje’s oeuvre and offers much needed engagement with his ideas.

The most inclusive and critical treatment to date of Mafeje as a thinker and researcher, it does not aim to be a biography, but rather offers an analysis of his overall scholarship and his role as a theoretician of liberation and revolution in Africa.

A formidable cutting-edge intellectual force

Bongani Nyoka argues that Mafeje’s superb scholarship developed out of both his experience as an oppressed black person and his early political education. These, merged with his university training, turned him into a formidable cutting-edge intellectual force.

The importance of this book lies in its comprehensive use of archival and source material, and how it is used to show the evolution of Mafeje’s ideas. Through a discussion of his critique of the social sciences, land and agrarian issues and revolutionary theory and politics, Nyoka also shows how Mafeje’s work is not only significant for anthropology, sociology and African studies in South Africa, but also raises questions that are relevant in the global North. Mafeje’s scholarship deserves a much broader readership than it has had to this point and this book makes an outstanding contribution to his becoming better known as an exceptional South African intellectual.

– Professor Crain Soudien, Chief Executive Officer of the Human Sciences Research Council

Nyoka begins with an evaluation of Mafeje’s critique of the social sciences; his focus then shifts to Mafeje’s work on land and agrarian issues in sub-Saharan Africa, before finally dealing with his work on revolutionary theory and politics.

By bringing Mafeje’s work to the fore, Nyoka engages in an act of knowledge decolonisation, thus making a unique contribution to South studies in sociology, history and politics.

This is a brilliant and systematic exposition of the scholarly works of Archibald Monwabisi Mafeje. As far as I can tell, this is the first book-length effort to drill deep and unpack Mafeje’s scholarly works. At a time when ‘decolonisation’ of knowledge is stranded at the level of protest scholarship, Nyoka’s scholarly interrogation of Mafeje’s oeuvre is a welcome departure. We are introduced in a rich, in-depth, and critical way to the abundant resources that one of Africa’s most creative social scientists produced. Nyoka’s book deserves to be read; it should occupy a space on the shelf of every library.

– Jimi O. Adesina PhD MASSAf, Professor of Sociology and DSI/NRF SARChI Chair in Social Policy

About the author

Bongani Nyoka is a lecturer in the Department of Political and International Studies, Rhodes University and a senior Research fellow at the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study, University of Johannesburg.

  • Publisher | Wits University Press |
  • ISBN | 978-1-77614-594-2 |
  • Recommended Price | R385.00 |
  • Subject | History, Politics, Social theory, Social anthropology |

For more information | Corina van der Spoel |  +27 (0)11 717 8705/8700 mail me |



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