This paper pieces together the fundamentals of Bernard Magubane’s critique of anthropology in southern Africa. Insofar as it is a discussion of Magubane’s critique of anthropology, it is primarily exegetical. Significantly, however, the paper should be read as a ‘beginner’s guide’ for South African students of the social sciences who may not have been exposed to Magubane’s work. The point of this paper is not to berate the discipline of anthropology, but to discuss Magubane’s work in relation to it. The paper comprises three main parts. The first part examines Magubane’s critique of southern African anthropology in the colonial situation. The second part assesses the usefulness of anthropological notions of pluralism and ‘tribalism’ in explaining conflicts in Africa. The remainder of the paper contends with anthropological themes such as social change and ‘modernisation’ in southern Africa. Generally, the paper argues that anthropology had problems at two levels: political and epistemological. Politically, anthropology studied southern African societies outside of history and context. Epistemologically, anthropology is a discipline founded on alterity i.e. on studying the cultural Other.
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