Mongameli Mabona

His Life and Work

Ernst Wolff

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The life and work of a remarkably versatile and pioneering South African thinker
Mongameli Anthony Mabona (1929) is a singular South African scholar with an exceptional life path. Yet, he is a wrongly forgotten figure today. British imperialism and apartheid shaped the world into which he was born and, to a large extent, these powers carved out his destiny for him. Nevertheless, a curious set of coincidences enabled him to obtain a tertiary education as a priest, to pursue his doctoral studies in Italy and to befriend Alioune Diop. He is one of the first published philosophers of Anglophone Africa and holds doctorates in theology and anthropology. His opposition to institutionalized racism – an opposition which included his co-authoring the 1970 “Black Priests’ Manifesto” – eventually led to his exile. This book is the first study of any kind devoted to Mabona. It documents his life and offers a synoptic reading of his scholarly and poetic work.

Ebook available in Open Access.
This publication is GPRC-labeled (Guaranteed Peer-Reviewed Content).



1. Xhosaland: A history of confrontations 
1. A snapshot of Xhosa life in the mid eighteenth century 
2. Accelerated change: A typology of mounting conflict 
3. A changing region in a changing world 
3.1 Spread of Boers and British expansion 
3.2 British domination and its effects on Xhosaland and beyond 
3.3 Changes from the Xhosaland perspective 
3.4 Changes from the broader South African perspective 

2. (Dis)Union: The world of Mabona’s youth (1910 to the mid 1950s) 
1. International and Union politics 
2. The economy 
3. Separation – reserves – labour 
4. Transkei: Culture, religion, education 
5. Resistance nationally and in the Transkei 

3. Enter Mongameli 
1. Birth and first years 
2. Early childhood in Qombolo 
3. Life in Zigudu – Catholic background (1)
4. Ixopo – Catholic background (2) 
5. Pevensey – Catholic background (3) 
6. Early priesthood 

4. Italy 
1. Italian society after World War II 
2. Everyday life in Rome 
3. Mabona, the student and researcher 
4. Further intellectual work 
5. Second Congress of Black Writers and Artists: Alioune Diop and Présence Africaine
Excursion: The journal Présence Africaine 
6. Preparing for Vatican II 

5. Back home? Apartheid, St. Peter’s, SPOBA 
1. Apartheid 
2. Apartheid education 
3. The South African economy in the 1960s 
4. Resistance 
4.1 The ANC and the PAC 
5. Life back in South Africa 
5.1 Lumko 
5.2 Independent ethnographic studies 
5.3 Poetry 
5.4 Lecturer at St. Peter’s in Hammanskraal 

6. London and Switzerland: Politics or anthropology? 
1. SOAS 
2. The Azanian People’s Liberation Front and other politics 
3. Family life 
4. Continued research 

1. Lux: The first impetus 
2. Présence Africaine: Writing for a wide public 
3. “The depths of African philosophy” and The outlines of African philosophy 
3.1 General appraisal: South Africa’s first African philosopher? 1
4. Dissertatio ad lauream in Facultate Juris Canonici apud Pontificiam
Universitatem Urbanianam 
5. “The nuclear blast of spring”: Poetry 
6. Writings of a South African priest 
7. Anthropology and religion 
8. Interlude: The publication spurt of 1996 
9. Diviners and prophets: The last, incomplete, work 
9.1 Final appraisal 

Mabona primary bibliography 
Notes on the sources for interviews and biography 

Format: Monograph - paperback

Size: 234 × 156 × 12 mm

202 pages

ISBN: 9789462702554

Publication: December 02, 2020

Languages: English

Stock item number: 138865

Ernst Wolff is professor of philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy, KU Leuven.
The historical background of South Africa and the Xhosa was well written, succinct, to the point, and as neutral as can be written about South African history. Mongameli Mabona played a minor role in this complex history and this is documented accurately in this well-written biography.
Hermen Kroesbergen, Anthropos 117.2022

Ernst Wolff hat mit diesem Buch eine wichtige afrikanische Stimme neu entdeckt, einen faszinierenden Lebensweg rekonstruiert und einen bedeutsamen Beitrag zur intellektuellen und politischen Geschichte Südafrikas geleistet.
Christoph Marx, sehepunkte 22 (2022), Nr. 11 [15.11.2022], URL:
This introduction to the life and ideas of a (mostly) forgotten thinker will be of considerable interest and use to religious, philosophical, anthropological,
intellectual, and Black Consciousness studies, with Wolff laying bedrock for further research, including, we hope, a more detailed tome. If today Mabona may seem marginal in the big scheme of things, with his broader impact and his audience in South Africa (especially for his writings in Francophone journals that are little read there) limited, this interesting book reminds us that history consists in the lives, thoughts, and actions of innumerable
such people deserving of attention.
Peter Limb, African Studies Review, Volume 65, Issue 1, March 2022,  DOI:

Assieme alla contestualizzazione storico-politica e biografica, l'analisi che l'autore offre del pensiero di Mabona fornisce un ottimo strumento per chi volesse approfondirlo criticamente nei suoi vari aspetti, ad esempio mediante confronti con gli altri pensatori (sud)africani a lui contemporanei. Nel caso dell'etnofilosofia, si potrebbe pensare a filosofi quali Tempels, Kagame e Mbiti, ma anche a coloro i quali sono critici verso questa corrente di pensiero, come Eboussi-Boulaga, Hountondji e Towa. In ragione delle tematiche affrontate, il libro di Wolff puo essere inoltre di grande interesse per chi studi la storia intellettuale del Sudafrica (non soltanto riguardo alla filosofia, ma anche all'antropologia, alla teologia e alla poesia). Esso si rivelerà altresì molto utile per chi vi esamini il ruolo del cristianesimo, della "Black theology" e del "Black Consciousness movement", per chi si occupi dei lavori e degli autori legati a «Présence africaine», ed infine per chi indaghi la storia del pensiero e della cultura europee nel loro rapporto con quella africana, il cui dialogo e stato da sempre al centro delle riflessioni di Mongameli Mabona.
Marco Angella, Filosofia Politica, 2/21, Agosto 2021


De auteur, zelf van Zuid-Afrikaanse origine maar momenteel docerend aan het Hoger Instituut voor Hoger Wijsbegeerte in Leuven, heeft een lovenswaardige poging ondernomen om deze landgenoot meer onder de aandacht te brengen. Naar mijn mening is hij daar voortreffelijk in geslaagd. De sterkte van de voorstelling van deze (ondertussen hoogbejaarde) Afrikaanse denker, geboren in 1929, is het feit dat zijn biograaf hem zeven keer heeft kunnen interviewen in een tijdsverloop van twee jaar, zodat er tijd was om, na het nodige onderzoek, in de diepte van zijn denken te gaan. Het boek biedt een voorbeeld om ook voor andere Afrikaanse filosofen (de evoluties van) hun denken tegen een sociopolitieke en historische achtergrond te schetsen, omdat die voor veel Afrikaanse filosofen een belangrijke rol speelt, wellicht meer dan in Europa.

Herman Lodewyckx, Tijdschrift voor Filosofie: Louvain Journal of Philosophy 83 (2021), nr. 3