by N. Chabani Manganyi
This intriguing memoir details in a quiet and restrained manner what it meant to be a committed black intellectual activist during the apartheid years and beyond. Few autobiographies exploring the ‘life of the mind’ and the ‘history of ideas’ have come out of South Africa, and N. Chabani Manganyi’s reflections on a life engaged with ideas, the psychological and philosophical workings of the mind and the act of writing are a refreshing addition to the genre of life writing. Starting with his rural upbringing in Mavambe in Limpopo province in the 1940s, Manganyi’s life story unfolds at a gentle pace, tracing the twists and turns of his journey from humble beginnings to Yale University in the USA.
The author details his work as a clinical practitioner and researcher, as a biographer, as an expert witness in defence of opponents of the apartheid regime and, finally, as a leading educationist in Mandela’s Cabinet and in the South African academy. Apartheid and the Making of a Black Psychologist is a book about relationships and the fruits of intellectual and creative labour. In it, Manganyi describes how he used his skills as a clinical psychologist to explore lives – both those of the subjects of his biographies and those of the accused for whom he testified in mitigation; his aim always to find a higher purpose and a higher self.