By Ann Kearns
Ubuntu is an indigenous South African philosophy that recognizes there is an interconnection between all people and no one person exists in isolation. Every interaction with a person is an opportunity to explore our humanity (Kamwangamalu, Nkonko M. (1999). Ubuntu in South Africa: a sociolinguistic perspective to a Pan –African concept.) At the core of this philosophy is the desire for all persons to live a life that can bring positive change to other people in their family, community, village, city or country.
The history of ubuntu was not scribed like the Torah, etched like Egyptian hieroglyphics or written like the Bible. It is indigenous in nature and its legacy is passed from generation to generation in song, story telling and proverb. The essence of ubuntu is philanthropic because it encourages acts of kindness, generosity and compassion. Ironically, the word philanthropy does not have a direct English translation in any of the eleven official languages of South Africa.
The importance of ubuntu in South African culture is made apparent in the White Paper for Social Welfare published in Pretoria, August 1997. The document sets-out the principles, guidelines, recommendations, proposed policies and programs for developmental social welfare in the new democratic post-apartheid South Africa.
Ubuntu is listed in the White Paper as part of the National Developmental Social Welfare Strategy (The White Paper for Social Welfare 1991, Department of Social Welfare, Chapter 2, Point 24). In the White Paper for Social Welfare ubuntu is explained as a spirit of mutual support and a principle of caring among all people.
The document goes on to explain that every person must take on both the rights and responsibilities necessary for individual and societal change. It also fosters the belief that respect and humanity must be reciprocal in all relationships between people in order to have a just society.
An example of how this benevolent philosophy is expressed in current day South Africa is found in organizations like the Ubuntu Institute and Ubuntu Mission.
The Ubuntu Institute (www.ubuntuinstitute.com) located in Guateng, South Africa offers programs to eradicate poverty, promote gender equality and empowerment of women, provide access to education, and promote environmental sustainability. One of the key programs offered at the Institute endeavors to promote the prevention of HIV/AIDs through behavioral change at the community level, individual level and political level. Prevention of HIV/AIDs is a worldwide issue and it is one of the foremost health related concerns in South Africa. All of the programs are driven by cultural and indigenous values that reflect the philosophy of ubuntu. Individuals who participate in the programs are in a position to bring positive change to themselves and to their community.
Ubuntu Mission (www.ubuntumission.org) offers educational opportunities to people who wish to develop business and leadership skills. The graduates of the Mission program can use their skills and knowledge to benefit their community and increase the economic prosperity of the country.
The philosophy of ubuntu is deeply woven in to the fabric of the South African people and continues to play a significant role in the country’s vision for the future (Smith, Barry, 2006, Building a culture of giving and “social justice philanthropy” in South Africa.). “It is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong.” (Tutu, Archbishop Desmond, 1999, No Future Without Forgiveness).
Kamwangamalu, Nkonko M. (1999). Ubuntu in South Africa: a sociolinguistic perspective to a Pan –African concept.
Smith, Barry (2006). Building a culture of giving and “social justice philanthropy” in South Africa.
The White Paper for Social Welfare (1997). Department of Welfare, Republic of South Africa.
Tutu, Archbishop Desmond (1999). No future without forgiveness.
The Ubuntu Institute www.ubuntuinstitute.com
The Ubuntu Mission www.ubuntumission.org