Perhaps its time Afrika stopped harping about Ubuntu and took a critical look at herself before she begins to mend what has become broken. That may sound harsh but we have good reason to consider it.
Ubuntu is defined widely by this phrase, “I am because you are”. In Shona its said, “Munhu, munhu nekuda kwevanhu” loosely translated “I am what I am because of who we are”. Ubuntu = humanness = kindness, goodness, virtue. Ubuntu is in essence an Afrikan humanity. Its a quality we owe each other. It demands we extend warmth to both strangers and members of our community. Ubuntu is the reason why you can ask for sugar from your neighbour - its the reason they can expect help from you in return.
The ideals of Ubuntu are gone to the dogs, little known and little practiced by our own people. Even Google search knows Ubuntu first and foremost as “the most worlds’ most popular OS (operating system)” - a software for computers. I shudder to think of how little our children know about this noble philosophy and way of life.
A woman was gang raped and murdered (Mutare, Zimbabwe) in October 2013. People say they heard her scream but no one came to her aid because they thought “it was nothing”. One wonders how screams of terror and death could possibly have sounded like nothing.
A group of boys helped each other gang rape 12 year old girl after spiking her drink. Most people said it was her fault for drinking liquor at her age. Others blamed GMO products, “these girls grow up so fast these days and they lack decorum”. Does another’s lack of self respect or is it self restraint excuse anothers lack of the same?
3 young men robbed and killed a white family in South Afrika, they laughed their way to court - their conviction obviously not a worry to them. I guess they felt justified in their action, after all this was a white family. Makes it easier to say “they” are not “us”.
In Afrika we “cure” lesbians and gay people by raping them, beating them, sometimes killing them - often in gangs. I guess that’s another convenient “they” and “us” distinction which makes it easier to ignore the virtues demanded by Ubuntu. If one can convince oneself that someone is not “one of us” then one can convince themselves that they owe that person/s nothing.
But who is an Afrikan? Who is deserving of the embrace of Ubuntu? Does it confine us only to humanity towards our fellow black folk or does it extend to even the stranger in our village? The old Ubuntu - the one our leaders like Mugabe, Mandela and Tutu used as the cornerstone of our post-colonial nations was humanity to all. It did not pick and choose, did not discriminate by race, sex, tribe or any other distinction. Above all it preserved life.
Shall we get started on the several civil wars that have racked our continent for decades now? Not driven by ethnic and religious diversity as suggested by some but fuelled by greed.
One of the early writers wrote that one of the maxims of Ubuntu is this, “A king owes his status to the people under him”. Does a king or leader then not owe the people good governance and peace at all costs? Yet Afrika is burdened with bad governance, bad administration of public funds, corruption and opaque accountability.
Sure, these and many other ills are not associated with ALL Afrikans - its some people, a few people, who corrupt the whole. But if I AM BECAUSE YOU ARE then the collective has to share the vision, hasn’t it? The collective has to share and live the same ideals.
Can one expect to find Muslims in a mosque? Of course.
Can one expect everyone in a Christian church to believe in Christ? Definitely!
If Ubuntu is Afrikan humanity, can we expect all Afrikans to share it? We should - or else we are short-changing ourselves.
This is the reason why Afrika needs to take a good look at herself and make a change or stop bragging about Ubuntu completely. For as long as we are not responsive to the calls of hunger, poverty, desperation, inequality, disempowerment coming from the least of our people then we are all nothing because they are nothing.