Ubuntu


Wednesday, 10th June


There is little doubt that analysis and calls for investigations into who is at fault for the high UK death count will go on long after the end of the pandemic - whenever that may be. There are many who will feel that their loved ones suffered an untimely death and will want some kind of explanation, apology or justice for what seems to be an avoidable catastrophe.


What we do not know is whether any other politicians or scientist would have been any more effective in such an unforeseen, once in a lifetime situation. We cannot change what has happened and we need to ask the question, 'how do we move on?' I wonder whether part of the answer to that question lies with our African neighbours.


Black people in South Africa suffered decades of suffering and servitude under white control. Yet Nelson Mandela, having seen most of his best years lost in imprisonment, sought to find reconciliation rather than restitution on his ascent to Presidency of the nation. One of his allies, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, together with his daughter Mpho, not only advocated a Truth and Reconciliation process, but also an attitude of Forgiveness as a way forward for a people in pain.


Speaking at the Greenbelt Festival a year or so ago, Mpho emphasised the idea that if you, as the person injured by someone found it in your heart to forgive them - whether they were sorry or not - then you cease to be the victim of the offence. That releases you to move on. That seems to me to be part of the remarkable stance taken by so many South Africans which is so counter to the usual demands we make for judgement and punishment as the only way to go.


From what I know from my African acquaintances over the years, that desire for healing and restoration of community arises partly out of the concept of Ubuntu - 'I am, because you are!' It is a concept which Mungi Ngoman, granddaughter of Desmond Tutu offers as a key to building a better world, starting with yourself and your outlook on life. Listen to her own explanation:


' Ubuntu is about our shared human experience and each of us doing our part to remember that everyone we come into contact with has an impact on our life, and vice versa. Ubuntu is about our collective humanity and this collective spirit is prevalent on the African continent but is less visible in the West.


Individualism and exceptionalism rule the day in western culture and when we focus only on these parts of life it is hard to see the strength that lies in our unity. It is not bad to be self-sufficient at times, but we must remember that no one is self-made.


Think of all the great movements and marches that have been successful in history. One person may have led them but they were only successful because of all the people who joined the effort. Unity and connection are what make us human. Ubuntu is a challenge we need to face together.


My grandfather and mother like to say, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”, which translated into English means: “A person is a person through other persons.” Our experiences may be different but we are all struggling in one way or another, and seeking out connections with others makes pain a little bit easier to handle. My grandfather once said: “Do your little bit of good where you are, it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world”.'


We have caught sight of a sense of solidarity during this epidemic. We have also been angered by the half-truths we have been offered to explain why our political masters have done what they have done. I wonder whether the key to tomorrow lies with the solidarity and a sense of Ubuntu rather than in cries for restitution by those of us who see ourselves as victims of what has happened? I am, because we are!



To topple tyrants and exalt the low,

Up Lord, and help us! Hear our hapless sighs,

We have been cowed by ‘people in the know’,

The worldly wind us in a web of lies,

We have been flattered into servitude,

Snared with devices that the rich devise.

They purchase us with their fake plenitude,

They keep us clicking on false images.

The one percent control the multitude

With virtual distractions, online purchases,

Whose icons all prove idols in the end.

They market us as passive packages.

Send us instead your pure words, Jesus, send

Us hope, still silver-bright, tried in the fire,

Come down to free us, come as our true friend.

(Malcolm Guite)



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