The Sunday News
Richard Runyararo Mahomva
On March 30 1936 he was born and on 28th of the same month in 2007 he was promoted to glory (May his soul rest in power).
Nonetheless, his works live with us and are still relevant in influencing multi-disciplinary spheres of thought and he remains an unequivocal philosophical beacon of Africa. On 30 March, Professor Archie Mafeje would be 82. He is not dead.
This attempt to memorialise the life and work of Mafeje is not a sycophantic or a race essentialist exercise.
This is an attempt to proffer profound terms on understanding conditions of Blackness from a point of thingfication to broad-based terms of reclaiming and resuscitating a lost humanity.
Revisiting Mafeje’s legacy also offers opportunity for a self-introspection exercise for African academics about their contribution to the solution of African problems. This comes at a time Africa is trying to produce alternative thought with regards to peace-building, democracy and policy-making.
Africa is grappling with localising herself within the global political-economy conundrums. This is where Mafeje’s contribution becomes critical. Of note is his commitment to making knowledge which inspires the future of Africa’s problem-solving scholarship.
His scholarship inspires continued direction of concerted efforts to growing knowledge. He was never ashamed of his views and the class he was representing, thus it would be a great travesty to forget him when discussing anthropological and sociological concerns around race, ethnicity, class and gender. One of the greatest traits of Archie is the fact that he was not afraid to break rank. He was a thinker without boundaries — but bound to the consciousness of defining a course of liberation for Africans.
His contribution to subversion to coloniality of reason remains a point of inspiration to social-scientists.
Mafeje’s work serves as a crucial reference for interpreting African’s socio-political and economic collage of intellectual faculties concerned with making explicit the nature and significance of ordinary and scientific beliefs and scrutinising the unambiguousness of thoughts, impressions, beliefs and feelings by means of coherent argument concerning their presuppositions, implications, and inter-relationships; in particular, the rational investigation of the nature and construction of reality (metaphysics), the resources and limits of knowledge (epistemology), the principles and import of moral judgment (ethics), and the relationship between language and reality (semantics).
In a capsule, Mafeje’s work is critical in defining the need for Africa to develop an independent state of self-perception. Through philosophy, Africans must be able to find their humanity and embrace the humanity of others, but most importantly emerge out of the process as a highly self-determined group.
The commitment of philosophers like Mafeje in making knowledge has been fundamental in articulating the genealogies and ancestries of knowledge.
Through rational particularism, Mafeje’s seminal contribution is that terms of knowing must not be limited to terms of knowing set by Western hegemony.
There is no doubt that Mafeje was a protector of the African identity, of African roots and rights. As part of being the guardian of aspects such as these, he made his points standard in his publications, of which he was author. He was even known to challenge his mentors and supervisors when it came to preferred theories.
Hence, he was a man who could not be easily swayed. This positioned him to be a key figure in rethinking the conservation of the status-quo regarding the architecture of pedagogy framing.
To this day, his character can be explored as a template of rethinking the centre.
Mafeje, Mbiti, Senghor among others have enabled modern day epistemic renaissance that positions Black thought as an integral part of humanity beyond its fencing around the personalities of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and other founders of Western sponsored rationale.
Through their illustrious commitment to liberating reason, it is clear that philosophy forms the basis of each human society’s world-view — including each human community’s contact with other worlds.
Through the heretical position of Mafeje’s scholarship, we are now coming to a realisation of the need to liberate being, knowledge and power in a manner that challenges the dominance of coloniality in Africa.
Prof Nabudere describes Mafeje as one of the “African intellectual pathfinders”. This position is informed by Mafeje as a revolutionary decolonisation intellectual. 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 early as 1967 Mafeje was among the few learned Black people in apartheid South-Africa being deprived the right to teach at the University of Cape Town (UCT).
However, after serious trivialisation of his appointment based on merit Mafeje had to endure the burden being an acceptable Black academic at the UCT in apartheid South-Africa. The UCT Council annulled the appointment allegedly due to the apartheid government’s pressure.
The Council decision was taken despite strong opposition from within the University, particularly from students who protested by occupying the University administration building for nine days. In this regard, Mafeje can be regarded as a cognitive justice freedom fighter.
It is on this basis that Mafeje’s scholarly grounding is still a mirror reflecting the need for epistemic disobedience considering how he was a rejected intellectual figure in the academia on the basis of his skin colour. Against a background of the influences of colonialism and apartheid in validating the African intelligentsia, Prof Mafeje set the foundation for generational transfer of the burden of liberating reason from the confines of colonial hegemony. He also raised the benchmark in his field of study, especially for future African scholars. He joined others who helped to fight against segregation and unfairness regarding the oppressed.
In the late 80s he was part of those who were on exodus from South-Africa in fear of political persecution. In the early years of the political negotiation process in South Africa, Mafeje was in 1990 and 1991, doing research under the Visiting Fellowship Programme of the SAPES Trust in Zimbabwe. This research was published in 1992 as a collection of essays under the telling title: In Search of an Alternative: a collection of essays on revolutionary theory and politics.
SAPES became Mafeje’s habitat as a dissident scholar rejected by his mother country for the crime of challenging the status-quo. His fellowship at SAPES represented the nascent post-colonial aspirations of a committed consciousness to recollect the lost dignity of Africans by scholars.
These fellowships provided by SAPES since its foundation in 1987 represented the social relationship of resistance and ejection of thought-leaders by colonial institutions. Therefore, SAPES became that society of promoting a remembrance of a past that had to be remodelled to usher a future of progress for the continent.
Therefore, his scholarship can also be attributed to his interface with Zimbabwe. As it stands, Zimbabwe and South-Africa are grappling with the historical racial curses of ownership and control of the economy, redistribution of land, cognitive justice and liberation of knowledge.
Therefore, this is an opportune moment for reflections on the life and times of Archie. This is because he is a figure that embodied principles of self-introspection and self-consciousness.
Against his contribution to post-coloniality Mafeje prescribes pan-Africanism as a remedy to the continent’s crisis. Archie believed “in championing the pan-Africanist ideal that Africans should speak for themselves and understand themselves through their own efforts”.
Therefore, his work has a cross-cutting effect in influencing problem-solving concept to the current challenges of the decolonial aspirations. 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. However, Mafeje had a defined position. The heart of his intellectualism was with Africa — and with Africa was his commitment to intellectualism.
Long live Archie.