‘‘In the old days when we were young, a traveller through our country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food. People gave him food and attended to him once he stops. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question is, are you going to do so in order to enable the community… to improve? These are the most important things in life …’’
These words from the personification of Ubuntu, late President Nelson Mandela, in a video where he was asked to define the concept of ‘Ubuntu’, underpins the essence of this write-up. The recent wave of xenophobic violence in South Africa triggered by allegations of South Africans losing jobs and economic opportunities to other Africans and hate speeches against immigrants has once again underlined the need to reawaken the Ubuntu Spirit among Africans. It is amazing that this concept that was so much valued by noble sons and daughters of Africa such as late President Nelson Mandela, President Thabo Mbeki, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu has gone dead in the wake of the onslaught of incidences whereby immigrants have become victims of xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
During the days of Apartheid in South Africa, the slogan ‘motho ke motho ka batho ba bangwe/umuntu ngumuntungabantu’ which, literally translated, means a person can only be a person through others generated a huge solidarity among all Africans. The concept which perfectly illustrates the ideals of African shared values. It is the universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity and is particularly significant when considered along the lines of its primary values of intense humanness, collective brotherhood (personhood), collective morality caring, respect for human dignity, a sense of hospitality and the integration of strangers. This concept, deployed during the days of the Apartheid struggle prompted Africans around the globe to mobilize support towards ending decades of Apartheid in South Africa. It will be recalled that countries such as Nigeria, Botswana, Lesotho, Zambia, Senegal, Ghana and several others threw their full weight behind South Africa during the Apartheid struggle in the spirit of Ubuntu. This history of brotherhood and solidarity is ironically being fast forgotten as evidenced by the events of these past weeks.
The moral concept of Ubuntu demands for peace and the promotion of human life and dignity. First, this demand is that South Africans should choose to live together in peace with foreigners in the traditional spirit of brotherhood. In other words, this means a return to the communitarian spirit.
Second, South Africans should exhibit tolerance and hospitality towards foreigners living amongst them. Concretely, this means that they must give room for equality and collective space within which everyone is able to contribute his or her quota to the development of South Africa and Africa at large. They must know that killing, maiming or torture of innocent people for any reason at all is not justified and definitely not in accordance with Ubuntu.
Third, foreigners in South Africa equally need to selflessly contribute to the society in a collaborative manner void of unhealthy rivalry. Practically traditional models of conflict resolution, aligned to Ubuntu, should be explored in the current crisis. Such models should aim at the reestablishment of relationships between South Africans and foreigners. There must be a holistic approach to this process, in which the foreign community should be involved, to assist on the road to peace. As the lead stakeholder, South African leaders across various sectors have a responsibility in this regard. It is to guide conflict resolution processes towards an agreement, which should reflect, as much as possible, the consensus of all the parties involved in the conflict.
There is an overarching potential that this traditional African concept of Ubuntu can influence common solidarity, peace and security in the current crisis. South Africans need to demonstrate to the world once again that they believe in this. Ubuntu should not be history in South Africa, it should be expressed as a worthy measure to end xenophobia.
*Ikubaje Esther(firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Programme Officer at the Africa Peace and Security Programme (APSP), a joint programme of the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) and the African Union. All views expressed in the AfSol blog are solely the views of the author and do not in any represent the views of IPSS or APSP. For more information on AfSol Blog, please contact email@example.com.