Hlonipha Mokoena's main area of interest is South African intellectual history. One of the defining characteristics of South Africa is that it is a society that ostensibly lacks a collective history or shared philosophical and political traditions. The main objective of Professor Mokoena's teaching is to introduce students to the contested histories of South African political ideas and traditions. Some of the themes and topics examined in her courses include: othering discourses and the emergence of a Cape discourse; slavery, free labour and the history of paternalism; frontier violence and resistance to conquest; and the emergence of African and Afrikaner nationalisms.
Professor Mokoena's current research is on Magema M. Fuze, author of the Abantu Abamnyama Lapa Bavela Ngakona (1922) / The Black People and Whence They Came (1979). As an author and an aspirant historian, Magema Fuze represents a set of questions about the emergence and arrested development of a black intelligentsia and literati in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century South Africa. His life and writings reveal both his singular attempt to create, under adverse cultural, political and social conditions, a literary career and a body of knowledge while also participating in the constitution of a discourse community or a public sphere of Zulu-speaking intellectuals.