Emeritus Professor of Anthropology Bernard Magubane Dies

A candle burning.
Professor Bernard Magubane
Professor Bernard Magubane

Professor emeritus Bernard Makhosezwe Magubane, a South African who was a longtime anthropology professor at the University of Connecticut, died April 12 at his home in South Africa. He was 82.

Born Aug. 26, 1930 on a farm near Colenso in Natal, Magubane rose to become one of South Africa’s leading scholars, teaching at the University of Connecticut for 27 years. As a representative in the United States of the liberation movement, the African National Congress, Magubane led the successful, anti-apartheid divestment campaign in the state of Connecticut, and helped coordinate similar activities throughout the U.S.

Upon hearing of Magubane’s death, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma deplored the country’s “loss of one of its best historians and an outstanding academic.”

Born to un-schooled farm workers in rural Kwa Zulu Natal, Magubane’s first opportunity to attend school came at the age of 10, when his parents enrolled him at Mazenod primary school in Chesterville. In 1949, he obtained his T3 Teaching Certificate and returned to Mazenod as a teacher in 1950. In 1953, he entered the University of Natal and registered for the sociology honours programme.

Two years later, while completing his MA, he was awarded a scholarship from the Institute of International Education, which enabled him to enroll in the Ph.D. program in sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Magubane left for California in December 1961, and completed his Ph.D. in 1967. His dissertation was on African American Consciousness of Africa, and it became the basis for his award-winning book, The Ties That Bind (1987).

While lecturing at the University of Zambia from 1967 to 1970, Magubane worked closely with the leadership of the ANC. In 1970, he accepted a faculty position as a professor of anthropology at UConn, where he taught for 27 years. During his long career he published The Political Economy of Race and Class in South Africa (1979), the book for which he is best known, as well as articles about the political economy of South Africa that appeared in such publications as Contemporary Sociology, African Studies Review, Journal of Modern African Studies, Critical Anthropology.

As a committed anti-apartheid activist, Magubane founded the Connecticut anti-apartheid movement, which 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 retiring from UConn in 1997, Magubane returned to South Africa, where he 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 10 volumes of The Road to Democracy in South Africa, a comprehensive history of the country. Amongst his many honors, he was awarded the Order of the Star by former President Mandela.

Magubane was chair of the Luthuli Museum in KwaDukuza, and advised the Ministry of Arts and Culture on the production of a documentary about Nobel Peace Prize-winner Nkosi Albert Luthuli, president-general of the ANC from 1952 to 1967. Magubane also served as trustee for the heritage site Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, where Mandela was captured before being tried for treason. He also sat on the Advisory Council for Freedom Park.

He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Thembelihle Kaula, four daughters, 10 grandchildren, and a brother and sister.