South Africa

Ubuntu: I am Because We are


“Ubuntu is humanity. It is more about having the pie but sharing with the national equally and not trying to keep the big piece to yourself. Ubuntu is having no greed and always living to share.” – Vuyo Mnyantsi, Khayelitsha, South Africa on his definition of ubuntu.

Today we had a lecture at University of Cape Town, UCT, as is usual for our Wednesdays.

Professor Kwenda spoke of African religious traditions and their connection to, or more importantly, their dis-connection from, the concept of international human rights. I’m beginning to see my good faith in the UN document of Universal Human Rights is, for a westerner, rightly placed. Yet, for a non-westerner, for an African, my faith is misplaced and even harmful.

Many Africans pay homage to the spirit of ubuntu. This is the concept that in order to be human, you must be part of the whole. There is no individuality without the community. Social psychology agrees to a certain extent with this philosophy, at least to my limited knowledge. However, ask any American what is it to be an individual, better yet ask an American what is means to be “human.” My response, before this trip and learning of ubuntu, would most likely have included some concept of god-given humanity and complete rejection of the idea that community is a catalyst for individuality.

Instead of rejecting my previous view, in the spirit of peace building, I begin to think about how American culture and African culture can interact and create some sort of “real” globalization.

Lately I’ve regarded globalization as a necessary evil to my way of life in the States. I’m annoyed by the expansion and imperialism of the American media into South Africa. I’ve seen several billboards out here with the face of a very white-washed Beyonce, reruns of The Fresh Prince of Bell-Air, and WWE dominating the televisions in my town.

I’ve felt this once before, when I was in Italy. As I speak to more international students abroad, they recount it is visible in their countries as well. How can cultures awaken notions of importance in one another? The spirit of ubuntu can aid the States just as the idea of individual rights are a necessary growing point in the struggle of post-apartheid South Africa.

I’m beginning to realize the importance of my two-month stay instead of one month. After a month’s time now all the walls are fading away. In terms of polite conduct and what seemed at first to be a nice game-face on both sides of the interaction. I’m beginning to see my family as just that, I’m becoming a part of the reality of South Africa. I am a part of the present.

In my inclusion, interaction is becoming less of a guest-host relationship, it is now a member-member type of communication. Which is odd, considering the amount of attention I gather each and every time I step into public view. The small amount of personal space which I have been allowed up to now, has been out of manners for the foreigner. My family has taken great care to show respect for my beliefs and culture. However, things are more organic now, which comes as a relief. I wasn’t even aware I was floating around the outside of the bubble like an outsider until I was actually brought into this realm. Now we’re just living real, everyday life.

Please be kind towards this entry. My brain is swarming with ideas, history, philosophy, future policies, et cetera, et cetera. My fingers are moving at a much slower pace than my brain and my time in this cafe today is limited. I have to run to lunch here pretty soon and then I’m off to another lecture. My brain is going to explode! I talked earlier about my inspiration being heightened here – I’m having difficulty placing it into something constructive. My journal is a mess of words – I might be better off grabbing one of my entries, editing it, and posting it – just so you could really see all the things that are going on here.

I’m able to fall into the academic portion of my trip now. I’m feeling more comfortable with my surroundings and my brain is allowed space to formulate more than memorization.

Noluthando (Me! This is my Xhosa name!) (Noh-loo-tahn-doo) It means “beloved.” Aw.

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