Patrice Motsepe and the southern African tradition of Ubuntu/Botho

sduncan post on February 22nd, 2016
Posted in South Africa

By Johnathan Bunce

African philanthropy has been in the news recently, with the January 30, 2013

announcement that South African’s richest black citizen, Patrice Motsepe, will be

giving away half of his family’s wealth during his and his wife Precious Motsepe’s

lifetimes. This announcement was greeted with interest in North America, as

Reuters reported that Motsepe is the first African philanthropist to sign up for The

Giving Pledge. Founded in 2010 by leading U.S. philanthropists Warren Buffett and

Bill Gates, The Giving Pledge is “an effort to invite the wealthiest individuals and

families in America to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to the

philanthropic causes and charitable organizations of their choice either during their

lifetime or after their death.”

The Founder and Executive Chairman of African Rainbow Minerals, a mining

company with interests in gold, platinum, coal and ferrous metals, the 51-year-old

Motsepe, whose personal worth is estimated at R22.99 billion ($2.58 billion CAD),

said he was inspired not only by Buffet and Gates’ initiative but also by southern

African traditions of generosity. In a press release announcing his pledge, Motsepe

stated, “South Africans are caring, compassionate and loving people. It has always

been part of our culture and tradition to assist and care for less fortunate and

marginalised members of our communities. This culture is also embodied in the

spirit and tradition of Ubuntu/Botho.”

Ubuntu is variously defined as a southern African humanism, philosophy,

worldview, ethic or personal quality. Danish philosopher Christian B.N. Gade’s

investigations showed references to Ubuntu began appearing in written sources in

1846, though until the mid-1900s, it was only used to define a human quality, before

being applied more broadly to describe a philosophy or worldview. More recently,

ubuntu was discussed considerably during transition from white minority to black

majority rule in South Africa and Zimbabwe in the 1990s, and that “it was during the

period from 1993 to 1995 that the Nguni proverb ‘umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’

(often translated as ‘a person is a person through other persons’) was used for the

first time to describe what Ubuntu is.”

At its core, Ubuntu is the recognition that all people are interconnected and that no

one exists in isolation.8 As the Nguni proverb suggests, in Ubuntu we discover our

own selfhood through other people – through community, collaboration and co-

operation; through openness, kindness and generosity towards others. Prominent

South African public figures such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former

President Nelson Mandela have both expressed admiration for the Ubuntu

philosophy. In his 1999 book No Future, No Forgiveness, Tutu said: “A person with

Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened

that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from

knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others

are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”

While Ubuntu is a word in the Bantu language, Botho is the Botswanan word for the

same concept in the Tswana language.

The generous spirit of Ubuntu can also be seen expressed in the philanthropic work

of the Ubuntu Institute, who work towards the eradication of HIV/AIDS and poverty,

the empowerment of women and providing access to education in Africa9, and the

Trust Africa Foundation, concerned with securing the conditions for democracy and

cultivating African development, enterprise and properity, “through collaboration

and partnerships with like-minded institutions and donors.”

Works Cited

Press release: “Motsepe gives half to the poor.” Motsepe Foundation. 30 January 2013.


Lakmidas, Sherilee. “First South African billionaire donates fortune to poor.” Reuters. 30 January 2013.

“About” page. The Giving Pledge. 3 February 2013.

Corporate summary. ARM Annual Report 2009.

Volgraaff, René. “No problems for the rich as they get richer.” Times Live (Johannesburg). 4 September 2011.

Press release: “Motsepe gives half to the poor.”

Gade, Christian B.M. “The Historical Development on the Written Discourses on Ubuntu.” Department of

Philosopy and History of Ideas, Aarhus University, Denmark. 2011. Kearns, Ann. “Ubuntu: A South African perspective of philanthropy.” Global Giving Resource. 29 January 2013.

Ubuntu Institute. 3 February 2013.

Trust Africa., 3 February 2013.

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