The role of Ubuntu in Africa’s development agenda

Team Members Meeting

By Nombulelo Shange

Ubuntu- It gives Africans a great sense of pride and joy, the philosophy that inspires us to be better people. Ubuntu schools us in the importance of referring to principles of empathy, unity and sharing when addressing common problems, reminding us that we are a small part of a greater community; our individual successes depend on the betterment of the community and environment.

Lately it feels like we have lost sight of this vision.  SA politics has been tainted by power struggles between parties, leaving no room for the discussion of real issues. Corruption runs deeper than Nkandla and has become our daily lived reality. And the recent xenophobic attacks have betrayed the legacy of our freedom fighters, casting doubts on whether Ubuntu still exists. Ubuntu seems more like that ‘soft law’ we all hope to apply to our lives, but never quite get around to. We have forgotten that it was Ubuntu and the sacrifice of many Africans that got SA through Apartheid. It was Ubuntu principles, deeply embedded in the TRC that spared lives and peacefully got us through our most important transition. I fervently hope that it will be Ubuntu that gets us out of our current developmental and social challenges.

Our own history has shown us that challenges are best addressed when we work en masse. The Western world is sometimes perceived to be individualistic, but it still understands the importance of mass social action for the purpose of positive change. Europe might have never recovered from WWII, were it not for the Marshall Plan and the united action of the West.

Post WWII reconstruction plans included lessening of interstate barriers, relaxing of petty regulations restricting trade and the growth of business, unionising the workforce and the encouraging of increased productivity. Sound familiar? It is.

These strategies resemble Thabo Mbeki’s African Renaissance, which also has its roots within Ubuntu. Mbeki believes that the African Renaissance will allow Africans to:

  • Break neo-colonial relations with the world’s economic powers.
  • Take their destiny into their own hands, which should lead to people-driven, people-centred development.
  • Find African solutions for African problems.

For these goals to be realised, Governments need to create policies that limit the influence of international corporations, and push for the development of proudly African businesses and ideas. Also important, is relaxing of state borders and petty, factional bureaucracy limiting unity and preventing us from reaching our full potential as Africans.

It is important for big business to adopt Ubuntu ideals by reaching out to help emerging entrepreneurs with potential. More businesses should emulate examples set by corporates such as SAB Foundation, which through its Tholoana Enterprise Programme supports the growth of rural-based black and women owned businesses, and provides them with access to capital and skills development. Also important, is environmentally value adding business and programmes, such as Fetola’s #JustAddGreen initiative, funded by J.P.Morgan. Big and small businesses should strive to create greater partnerships with previously marginalised communities, not because BEE laws say they have to, but because it is the right thing for our country and our Continent. Local businesses should also aim to build stronger relations with like-minded entrepreneurs across the Continent. African partnerships can accelerate development, and the benefits will no doubt last longer than the outcomes of an insular or China-focussed trade agenda alone.

On a personal level, we can ensure that our plans for individual growth also grow our communities, and have a positive impact on the environment. There’s a role to be played by the black middle class in this regard; the goal should no longer be to “get out of the hood”, instead it should be to get back in, though reinvesting in our communities. As Africans, we also need to reject the idea that our differences are obstacles and view them for what they truly are, our greatest strength.

According to political adviser for the Mbeki cabinet, Vusi Mavimbela;

                “…without an integrated programme of action to build upon… the dream of the    renaissance will forever be deferred or remain a romantic idealist concept.”

African Renaissance as perceived by Mbeki, though inspirational, has been criticised for relating mostly to SA, but Ubuntu transcends borders, gender and race. It is our shared philosophy and belongs to all; sadly, we have turned our backs on it when we need it most. In practice, the spirit of Ubuntu can help remedy many of our challenges. Deluding ourselves into believing Africans can grow without uniting, without each other’s support, is a laughable and absurd idea.  History has repeatedly shown us this.