Ernst Wolff | Mongameli Mabona

Ernst Wolff

"Mongameli Mabona belongs to the South African intellectual and resistance history as well as to the history of the African diaspora. The way in which scholarship has sidestepped him for fifty years is a mistake."

'Mongameli Mabona. His Life and Work' is the first study of any kind devoted to Mongameli Anthony Mabona (1929), a South African scholar with an exceptional life path. Yet, he is a wrongly forgotten figure today. In his book Ernst Wolff documents Mabona's life and offers a synoptic reading of his scholarly and poetic work.

Briefly and concisely explain in plain language what the book is about.
It is the extraordinary life story of Mongameli Mabona, a South African who lived under apartheid, studied in Europe and made contributions to philosophy, theology, poetry and anthropology.

What or who inspired you to choose this topic?
I discovered Mabona through an intriguing bibliographical note in Paulin Hountondji’s African philosophy – myth and reality. Following up on this lead, I gradually discovered more of Mabona’s writings. Finally, I had the opportunity to conduct long interviews with him. His exceptional lifepath is sufficient motivation to write a book about!

Do you have any reading suggestions to share (books, blogs, journals, ...) for anyone who wants to know more about the subject?
Part of the value of this book is that it is the first study on Mongameli Mabona. This would be the place to find out more.

How did the writing process for this book go? Did you experience anything surprising, amusing or strange?
The process was one surprise after the other. This is due to the exceptional nature of Mabona’s life: the contrast between the oppressive circumstances in which he lived for many years and the chances he had. He was a rare black South African to have had the opportunity to study in Rome in the 1950s and 1960s. He built relations with Alioune Diop and Présence Africaine (where most of his writings were published). He became a lecturer in South Africa and was a co-author of the Black Priests’ Manifesto. In exile he continued to search support for the Black Consciousness Movement, while also pursuing his studies at SOAS and in Bern.

This unexpected history sent my research to the Eastern Cape and to Switzerland, from Ixopo to Paris. I had correspondence with the head librarian of the Vatican City’s libraries and had to delve into poetry. I had to work through text in English, French, Italian and Latin.

What would you like readers to remember about your book?
Mongameli Mabona belongs to the South African intellectual and resistance history as well as to the history of the African diaspora. The way in which scholarship has sidestepped him for fifty years is a mistake.

Your book is published open access thanks to the support of the KU Leuven Fund for Fair Open Access. How did the open access publication process go? What makes open access so attractive for you/your book? Have you thus far noticed that your book reaches a wider audience?
It was of utmost importance for this project to ensure that the final document would be as accessible as possible to all potential readers. The OA version makes the book available to students, scholars and a broader public would otherwise not have been able to afford it.

Do you have any plans yet for another publication? What will it be about? Would you consider publishing the book open access?
My mother always said: “don’t count your chickens before they have hatched!” But I am certainly working on a next open access book.



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