Thomas Mofolo’s Chaka is arguably the first African novel in English to enter into global publishing circuits. Originally published in Sesotho in 1925, it was subsequently taken up and disseminated in two colonial contexts, first in Britain via an English translation published under the auspices of the International Institute for African Languages and Cultures and, second, as a French translation published by Gallimard. As an early example of a transnational African text (predating Achebe’s Things Fall Apart by almost 30 years), Mofolo's Chaka can be seen as an important early test case of both the production of African literature and its invention as a category in non-African contexts. In this paper, I undertake a reading of the archive of exchange relating to its 1930s English production, looking at the various transactions between mission authorities, colonial agents, institutes and publishers. While mindful of recent critiques of the conspiracy/dependency model of African publication, I seek to foreground the economic dimensions and power relations of this transaction while also giving attention to the particular ways in which this ‘African novel’ was understood, valued and called into being. Central to this argument is the colonial construction of African authorship. The Chaka archives afford a rare example of a publishing transaction conducted in the absence of the author of the book. In this sense, the archive records a double erasure (or death) of Mofolo as author, the first in his reification as exemplar of the ‘African mind’ and the second in his persistent exclusion from all negotiations relating to the novel’s publication. I argue that this exclusion continued despite Mofolo’s active attempts, in the immediate post-publication period, to insert himself into the public debates and transactions pertaining to the English version of his novel: this, in the form of two letters addressed to the translator which comprised a detailed rebuttal of the colonialist assumptions which drove the English production of his book.