Archibald (also known as ‘Archie’) Mafeje was born in Ngcobo in South Africa on 30 March 1936. Both of his parents were involved in education; his father was a headmaster of a primary school and his mother was involved in teaching. Archie was sent to Healdtown, and a significant influence in his life at the time was Livingstone Mqotsi, a history teacher.

After completing high school, Archie enrolled for tertiary education at Fort Hare University where he studied Zoology for one year. Then in 1956 he moved to pursue his studies at the University of Cape Town (UCT) where took a different field of study choosing to major in Social Anthropology. Once he completed his undergraduate studies, he followed an Honours degree and then pursued a Masters (MA) degree.

It was during his time at UCT that Mafeje became aware of politics. He was drawn by ideas of the Non European Unity Movement(NEUM). Later, Mafeje belonged to the Society of Young African(SOYA) which was an organisation associated with the All African Convention(AAC). In August 1963, he addressed a crowd which was ‘illegally gathered’, and for this reason he was arrested. He was, then, taken to Flagstaff to be tried. However, instead of being tried, he was fined and sent back to Cape Town.

Archie was known as an ‘intellectual pathfinder’. He contributed plenty to the people of Africa’s knowledge and self worth, especially since they had to fight against injustices and marginalisation. Not only was Mafeje an influential academic, but he was a person of brilliance, and intellect and a man of insight.

For almost forty years, Mafeje wrote various texts. In 1963, he wrote a book on Langa, with Monica Wilson. During this same year he submitted his MA thesis. However, one of the biggest disappointments in Mafeje’s life involved UCT. While he was at UCT he was appointed senior lecturer. However, his appointment was reversed because of an apartheid law. His removal sparked a protest by UCT student leaders and some academic staff members. In August 1968 an estimated 600 students began a nine day occupation of the Bremner Building demanding the reinstatement of Mafeje by the UCT Council. Instead of acceding to the demands, the institution established an Academic Freedom Research Award in honour of Mafeje. UCT put a disclaimer noting that the government had taken away its right to appoint lecturers.

As a result Mafeje left UCT and enrolled at Cambridge University in England. Here, Archie succeeded in obtaining a PhD. in Anthropology from Cambridge University in England in 1966. He was also an assistant lecturer at this university.

Mafeje laid the foundation for others, embarking on a similar path of study. 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. He 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.

During the period of 1969 to 1971, Archie was appointed as the Head of the Sociology Department at the University of Dar Es Salaam, in Tanzania, before he moved to The Hague. Then, from 1972 to 1975, he was involved in the Urban Development and Labour Studies Program at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS). It was here that he met Dr Shahida El Baz, who was an Egyptian activist and academic, who later became his wife. In 1973, Mafeje was made Professor of Anthropology and Sociology of development at the ISS at The Hague. In relation to this appointment, he was honoured by being named a ‘Queen Juliana Professor and one of her Lords.’ Archie Mafeje’s name is the Dutch National Directorate.

Hence, Mafeje contributed to South Africa and its people, but he also made his contribution to the world, in both a scholastic and insightful way. He was a person of intellect and guidance. With regards to African heritage, awareness and identity, he proved to be a custodian.

Moreover, he was a fighter and an activist against Western and European system of education which was used to brainwash African minds. His political mindset and involvement is crucial in trying to understand Mafeje and that which he bestowed, both on the scholarly and political spheres.

When Archie was in Cairo, he joined the America University as a Professor of Sociology. Then, from 1992 to 1994, he was given the position of Professor of Sociology and Anthropology. He was also appointed as the Director of the Multidisciplinary Research Centre at the University of Namibia.

Mafeje’s achievements were recognised in African, European, and North American research institutions and other universities where he was often a guest professor. He wrote a variety of publications and he also did ground-breaking work ‘on land and agrarian question in Africa’.

After many years in exile Mafeje moved back to South Africa in 2000 to take up a post as a ‘Research Fellow by the National Research Foundation’ (NRF) working at the African Renaissance Centre at the University of South Africa.

In 2001, he became a member of the Scientific Committee of the Council for the development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA). In connection with the afore-mentioned council, he was awarded the Honorary Life membership in 2003. Mafeje was appointed a CODESRIA Distinguished Fellow in conjunction with the Africa Institute of South Africa in Pretoria in 2005.

Professor Archie Mafeje died on 28 March 2007. He is survived by his wife, Shahida and their daughter, Dana.

Amongst some of his publication pieces which appeared in Journals and as chapters in books are:

The Ideology of Tribalism

The Fallacy of Dual Economies

What is Historical Explanation?

The Land Question and Agrarian Revolution in Buganda

Religion, Class and Ideology in South Africa

Neo- Colonialism, State Capitalism or Revolution

The Problem of Anthropology in Historical Perspective

Anthropology and Independent Africans

Debates & Rejoinders: Conversations and Confrontations with my Reviewers


Nabudere, D. (2011) Archie Mafeje: Scholar, Activist and thinker. (Pretoria: Africa Institute of South Africa), pp.1-8 

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