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Mandela honors Magubane's
contributions to social science
June 21, 1999

Bernard Magubane, an emeritus professor of anthropology, has received an award for outstanding service from President Nelson Mandela, joining a roster of award recipients that includes renowned anti-apartheid activists Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Steve Biko and Chris Hani; musicians Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba; and writer Nadine Gordimer.

Magubane, who taught anthropology at UConn for 27 years, returned to his native South Africa after his retirement in 1997. He was honored for his contributions to social science.

In one of his last acts as president, Mandela bestowed more than 90 awards, some posthumous, on outstanding figures of all races and professions who were leaders in the decades-long anti-aparthe id struggle. Speaking at the award ceremony June 10 in Pretoria, Mandela, who was elected president of South Africa's first democratic government after he spent 27 years in prison, said the event was a celebration of "a united South Africa at last at peace with itself."

Magubane, a prominent member of the African National Congress, a political party that was banned in South Africa for its opposition to apartheid, first came to the United States on a scholarship in 1961.

During his years of exile, he gained international acclaim for his analyses of race and class, the political economy of South Africa, and connections between African Americans and Africa.

The book which first brought him widespread attention as a scholar was The Political Economy of Race and Class in South Africa, (1979), in which he emphasized the role of race and racism in the political economy of South Africa. His ideas generated considerable scholarly debate.

Magubane's books, which span the disciplines of anthropology, sociology, political science and history, include The Ties That Bind: African American Consciousness of Africa, (1987), and The Making of a Racist State: British Imperialism and the Union of South Africa, 1875-1910 (1996).

Although he now lives mostly in South Africa, on the day Mandela gave out the awards, Magubane was in Storrs. Earlier this month, he was the first person interviewed for an oral history project that will help document the lives and political roles of more than 200 anti-apartheid leaders, as part of a partnership between UConn and the ANC.

"What makes Ben Magubane a particularly interesting scholar is that his scholarship reflected his political commitment," says Amii Omara-Otunnu, executive director of the UConn-ANC Partnership. "He was not afraid to address the issues that he thought were critical in the South African context, even though many of his colleagues at the time were minimizing the role of race and racism in South African society."

"Ben spoke truth to power," says Jim Faris, emeritus professor of anthropology. "He was a pioneer for his time and age."

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu