Professor Bernard Makhosezwe Magubane was born on 26 August 1930 on a farm near Colenso in Natal (now kwaZulu-Natal). He was the son of labour tenants on a white-owned farm in the Colenso district of KwaZulu-Natal. His father, Xhegwana Elliot, was illiterate and his mother, Ella Magubane, had been to school only for three years.
Apparently, his father had an argument with the farmer and the Magubanes left the farm and moved to Durban where they settled in an informal settlement at Cato Manor, Durban when Magubane was seven or eight years old.
He attended the Mazenod Primary School in Chesterville and after completing his Junior Certificate (Standard 8 or Grade 10), he went on to become a teacher at the Marianhill Teacher Training College, KwaZulu-Natal. He became politically involved and joined the African National Congress (ANC), attending ANC rallies and meetings. He was an avid reader of The Guardian and The New Age, newspapers run mainly by members of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA).
When Bantu Education was introduced, Magubanedecided along with some colleagues that they did not want to continue teaching. He completed his Standard Ten (Grade 12), attending night school at Sastri College in Durban. He then received a fellowship to attend the University of Natal (non-European section) as a part time student.
There he earned a BA and an honours degree and then a Masters degree in Sociology. In 1961, he managed to get another fellowship to study at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) in the United States of America (USA). After completing another Masters degree he went on to do his PhD at UCLA. During this time, he became one of the founders of the anti-Apartheid movement in the United States of America.
In 1967, Professor Magubane moved to Zambia where he taught at the University of Zambia and became a member of the ANC community in Lusaka. Oliver Tambo stayed with the Magubane family for some time and they became close friends. At the university, he worked closely with the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP) stalwart, Professor Jack Simons, who also taught there.
Magubane later recalled that, ‘We used to meet at [Jack Simons’] house every Sunday to discuss South Africa. In fact, almost everything that I had learned for my PhD, I had to unlearn from the lectures he gave... That's when I became interested in the political economy of race, and that's when I really started taking notes for the book, which I would work on when I went back to the United States in 1970. ”
He returned to the United States where he continued his academic career, teaching in universities in both California and then in Connecticut. His best-known book was The Political Economy of Race and Class in South Africa (1979), which despite being banned in SA, was an important source of knowledge and inspiration for many during the struggles of the 1980s.
Once again he became a major force in the anti-Apartheid movement. He worked with with his old friend from Durban, Johnny Makhathini, who had become the ANC’s Chief Representative at the United Nations. He was a leading activist of the anti-Apartheid movement in the USA.
Professor Magubane founded the Connecticut anti-Apartheid movement that successfully lobbied the state of Connecticut to divest from South Africa. Throughout his stay in the United States, he never missed an opportunity to raise the consciousness of the American people and the world at large about the plight of the African masses in South Africa.
After returning to South Africa in 1994, Professor Magubane joined the Human Sciences Research Council as a Chief Research Specialist. In September 2000, he was appointed project leader and Director of the South African Democracy Education Trust, a project organization set up to study the political history of South Africa since 1960. The Trust produced ten volumes of The Road to Democracy in South Africa, a comprehensive history of the country. Professor Magubane was the Editor-in-Chief of the South African Democracy Education Trust (SADET).
He was Chair of the Luthuli Museum in KwaDukuza and advised the Ministry of Arts and Culture on the production of a documentary on Nkosi Albert Luthuli. Professor Magubane served as a Trustee for Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, a heritage site as well as on the Advisory Council for Freedom Park.
Professor Magubane married Thembelihle Kaula in 1952 and they have four daughters.
Professor Bernard Makhosezwe Magubane passed away at his home at Fourways, Johannesburg, Gauteng, on 12 April 2013.
Dr Nzimande B. (2013). SA: Blade Nzimande: Address by the Minister of Higher Education and Training, at the Memorial Service for Prof Bernard Magubane, University of Johannesburg (17/04/2013) Available at www.noeasyvictories.org . Accessed on 22 April 2013|
Minter W. (2004). No Easy Victories: African Liberation and American Activists over a Half Century, 1950-2000 from No Easy Victories: African Liberation and American Activists over a Half Century, 1950-2000 online. Available at www.noeasyvictories.org . Accessed on 22 April 2013|
Magubane Z. (2013). Obituary for Ben Magubane by his daughter, Zine Magubane from concernedafricascholars online, 12 April. Available at www.google.co.za . Accessed on 22 April 2013