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The word "Ubuntu’’ gets thrown around a lot, but what does it actually mean?
‘’...Ubuntu - the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality - Ubuntu - you are known for your generosity.
We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.’’ Archbishop Desmond Tutu
An African Renaissance
A philosophical, classical African concept, the word ‘Ubuntu’ has its origins in several of the Bantu languages of Southern Africa. It is at its core an ethical or humanist ideology, referring to the necessity of unity and the removal of self-serving practices in order for the human race to evolve, to exist peacefully, and especially to prosper.
A cornerstone of the ‘New South Africa’, (post- apartheid) the concept of Ubuntu has been used since our first democratic elections in 1994 (as a founding principle in fact)in order to demonstrate the way the country should operate, and be run politically. The human ethics and moral scope that Ubuntu implies is seen to be an admirable compass for political decision-making.
A Positive Ideology
Ubuntu is at its core an ideology – but while most ideologies carry some negative connotations of naivety, false belief or useless optimism; Ubuntu is a concept to strive for. As humans are connected, whether socially, poltically or otherwise - so too do our actions affect one another. Ubuntu looks at this and points out how since our actions have consequences on one another, we should strive to act morally, and for the greater good.
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu puts it, ‘’A person is a person through other persons. ‘’ In this way we can utilise the philosophical theory of ‘’othering’’ to help explain Ubuntu.
Othering is essentially the concept whereby someone becomes that which others see him as; so if this is held true, the concept of Ubuntu means that ‘othering’ can gain a positive nature, through Ubuntu’s efforts at unity, and goodwill amongst others.
Ubuntu is not specific to South Africa, but is common to most African countries : ‘’Obuntu’’ in Uganda and Tanzania, ‘’Unhu’’ in Zimbabwe, the name differs slightly – but the concept remains much the same.
Due to its ‘’relationship’’ qualities, Ubuntu is the name given to a popular computer operating system. Similarly, Ubuntu has started to be applied in popular culture almost flippantly; as a way to sell or market a product. Generally this is laughed off as a cheap trick, but the core meaning of Ubuntu must always be remembered and reminded.
Ubuntu does not mean that you should not enrich yourself, but envisage enriching yourself in a way that also enriches others. A way for South Africans to unite; to mend the racial and cultural divides of the past. It is with this concept in hand that South Africa looks to the future, and see’s a tomorrow richer than our yesterdays.
By John Scharges
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