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Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa



CODESRIA Bulletin, No 3 & 4, 2008

A Giant Has Moved On

This 12th General Assembly is taking place exactly one year and nine months after the death of an illustrious member of CODESRIA, one most committed to the problematic of the public sphere in Africa. Wednesday 28 March 2007 will go down as a sad day among social researchers all over Africa and beyond. It was the day Professor Archibald Monwabisi Mafeje (fondly known among friends, colleagues and admirers as Archie) passed away in Pretoria, in what was a most quiet exit that has left very many of us whom he touched directly or indirectly, in a state of sadness and anger.

Archie Mafeje, the quintessential personality of science and one of the most versatile, extraordinary minds to emerge from Africa was, in his days, a living legend in every sense. His knowledge and grasp of issues – almost all issues – was breathtaking. His discourses transcended disciplinary boundaries and were characterised by a spirit of combative engagement underpinned by a commitment to social transformation. As an academic sojourner conscious of the history of Africa over the last six centuries, he rallied his colleagues to resist the intellectual servitude on which all forms of foreign domination thrive. He was intransigent in his call for the liberation of our collective imaginations as the foundation stone for continental liberation. In all of this, he also distinguished himself by his insistence on scientific rigour and originality. It was his trade mark to be uncompromisingly severe with fellow scientists who were mediocre in their analyses. The power of his pen and the passion of his interventions always went hand-in-hand with a uniquely polemical style hardly meant for those who were not sure-footed in their scholarship. This, then, was the Mafeje who left us on 28 March 2007, to join the other departed heroes and heroines of the African social research community. A great pan-African, an outstanding scientist, a first rate debater, a frontline partisan in the struggle for social justice, and a gentleman of great humanitarian principles, Archie was laid to rest on Saturday 7 April 2007 in Umtata, South Africa.

Professor Archie Mafeje, South African by birth, completed his undergraduate studies and began his career as a scholar at the University of Cape Town, but like many other South Africans, he was soon forced by the apartheid regime to go into exile where he spent the better part of his life. He obtained a PhD in Anthropology and Rural Sociology from University of Cambridge in 1966. In 1973, at the age of 34, he was appointed Professor of Anthropology and Sociology of Development at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague by an Act of Parliament and with the approval of all the Dutch universities, becoming the first African scholar to be so distinguished in The Netherlands. That appointment bestowed on him the honour of being a Queen Juliana Professor and one of her Lords. His name appears in the prestigious blue pages of the Dutch National Directorate.

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