Afrotheora, a new hepialoid genus from central and southern Africa, is described. There are eight species of which seven are named. Three were described previously, but were assigned to other genera (Dalaca rhodaula Meyrick, Eudalaca jordani Viette, and Hepialus thermodes Meyrick - a new senior synonym of Hepialus pardalias Janse). Four new species are named and described (minirhodaula, argentimaculata, flavimaculata and brevivalva). A further new species is described, but is not formally named. All species and their genitalia are described and illustrated. Three new combinations and one new synonymy are established, two lectotypes are designated and Hepialus ptiloscelis Meyrick from South Africa is transferred to Gorgopis Hübner. The monophyly of Afrotheora is recognized by the possession of two unique characters: (1) long bristle-like setae from the antennal scape reaching almost across the compound eye, and (2) the trulleum in the male genitalia comprising two lateral sclerotized rods separated by a membrane. Afrotheora represents one of the 12 hepialoid basal lineages currently thought to be monophyletic, and it is demonstrated that the new taxon is not subordinate to any other of these hepialoid clades. Its relationships are briefly discussed, but its exact affinities await further studies of hepialoid phylogeny. The term 'primitive Hepialidae' is here applied to four genera: Fraus Walker, Gazoryctra Hübner, Antihepialus Janse and Afrotheora. We use 'Hepialidae sensu stricto' to refer to the remaining genera of the Hepialidae sensulato (i.e. the Hepialidae of authors) until the phylogeny of the Hepialoidea is better understood. This does not indicate that the primitive Hepialidae are monophyletic while the Hepialidae sensu stricto undoubtedly are.