The Sunday News
Limukani Ncube, Sunday News Editor
STANLAKE Samkange, a historiographer, educator, journalist, author and African nationalist, sought to outline an African theory of knowledge in Ubuntuism or Hunuism (1980). He is widely credited for pointing out three tenants which shape the philosophy of Ubuntuism.
He points out that “To be human is to affirm one’s humanity by recognising the humanity of others and, on that basis, establish respectful human relations with them.” “If and when one is faced with a decisive choice between wealth and the preservation of the life of another human being, then one should opt for the preservation of life.” “The king owes his status, including all the powers associated with it, to the will of the people under him.” This, Samkange said, according to online sources, was a “principle deeply embedded in traditional African political philosophy.”
“According to Samkange, sharing is only one of many virtues encompassed within ubuntu/unhu. In the ethical domain of ubuntu/unhu, all visitors are provided for and protected in every home they pass through, without the expectation of payment, and do not need to carry any provisions, as long as they dress in a respectable manner.
“Every individual who is aware of the presence of a visitor within a locality should try his or her best to make that visitor comfortable. Another aspect of ubuntu is that, at all times, the individual effectively represents the people from among whom he or she comes.
“The concept of ubuntu is also essential to traditional African jurisprudence and governance. Under ubuntu/unhu, a crime committed by one individual against another extends far beyond the two individuals and has far-reaching implications for the people from among whom the perpetrator of the crime comes. Ubuntu jurisprudence supports remedies and punishments that tend to bring people togethe . . .” (New World Encyclopedia, 2016)
The ethical values of ubuntu include respect for others, helpfulness, community, sharing, caring, trust and unselfishness. Ubuntu underscores the importance of agreement or consensus, and gives priority to the well-being of the community as a whole (Fourie, 2008).
Scholars say the word ubuntu comes from Zulu/IsiNdebele and Xhosa languages, and can be roughly translated as “humanity towards others,” and “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.” Related Bantu languages have similar terms. The concept of ubuntu in Zimbabwe is similar to that of other African cultures. “In Kinyarwanda, the mother tongue in Rwanda, and in Kirundi, the mother tongue in Burundi, ubuntu means “human generosity” as well as “humanity”.
In Rwanda and Burundi societies, it is common for people to exhort or appeal to others to gira ubuntu meaning to “have consideration and be humane” towards others. In Runyakitara, the collection of dialects spoken by the Banyankore, Banyoro, Batooro and Bakiga of Western Uganda and also the Bahaya, Banyambo and others of Northern Tanzania, obuntu refers to the human characteristics of generosity, consideration and humaneness towards others in the community. In Luganda, the dialect of Central Uganda obuntu-bulamu refers to the same characteristics.
Ubuntu embodies virtues that maintain harmony and the spirit of sharing among the members of a society.
It implies an appreciation of traditional beliefs, and a constant awareness that an individual’s actions today are a reflection on the past, and will have far-reaching consequences for the future. It is also against that background that the African Union was born.
The African Union (AU) is a pan-African organisation whose goal is to propel a united continent towards peace and prosperity. It supports political and economic integration among its member nations. It aims to boost development, eradicate poverty and bring Africa into the global economy.
The AU succeeded the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 2002. In its later years the OAU — which originated in the decolonisation struggles of the early 1960s — had been criticised for becoming a mere talking shop, but in recent years, a lot of effort has been made to ensure that member-states walk the talk and the organisation has been involved in a number of peace keeping missions in the continent and has also been at the forefront of championing economic growth in the continent.
As the continent marks Africa Day this week, the philosophy of Ubuntuism comes back to the fore. It comes under spotlight once more as it is the very fibre that keeps us as a people together and constantly reminds us that we might have different names and surnames, but we are all people. We might belong to different religious groupings, but we are all people.
We might belong to different tribes and races, but we are all people. We might come from different towns and regions, but we are all Zimbabweans. And we even come from different countries on the continent, but we are all Africans. We are brothers and sisters who all call Zimbabwe home, brothers and sisters who all call Africa home.
As the late South Africa singer Jabu Khanyile put it, people are just like alcoholic beverages which are called by different names, yet they are all beer. Call it umqombothi, call it amasese, call it Castle Lager, call it whisky — call it whatever you want — it’s all beer. That’s what human beings are like. And in Romeo and Juliet, a classical play by William Shakespeare, we come across the phrase; “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. Here Juliet seems to argue that it does not matter that Romeo is from her family’s rival house of Montague, that is, that he is named “Montague”.
The reference is often used to imply that the names of things do not affect what they really are.
The same philosophy is being preached by President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Since his inaugural speech as President of the country in November last year, he has always preached peace, unity, tolerance, co-operation and development. And as the country inches closer to elections by every passing day, he has not changed his stance, thus driving Zimbabwe in a new trajectory that has warmed the world at large.
“In acknowledging the honour you have bestowed upon me, I recognise that the urgent tasks that beckon will not be accomplished through speeches, necessary as these may be. I have to hit the ground running to make sure that I lead in stupendous efforts we all need to summon and unleash in concert, towards taking this great nation beyond where our immediate past President left it.
“For close to two decades now, this country went through many developments. While we cannot change the past, there is a lot we can do in the present and future to give our nation a different, positive direction. As we do so, we should never remain hostages to our past.
“I thus humbly appeal to all of us that we let bygones be bygones, readily embracing each other in defining a new destiny. The task at hand is that of rebuilding our great country. It principally lies with none but ourselves.
“I implore you all to declare that NEVER AGAIN should the circumstances that have put Zimbabwe in an unfavourable position be allowed to recur or overshadow its prospects. We must work together, you, me, all of us who make up this nation . . . From events preceding this occasion, we stand apart as a unique nation driven by impulses of mutual tolerance, peace and unity which we have displayed in the past few weeks not withstanding our diverse political persuasions.
“This is a wonder to the world, indeed a proud page we have added to the science of conflict resolution and settlement. That peace and harmony should be characteristic of how we relate to one another before, during and after the 2018 harmonised elections which will be held as scheduled.”
Presidential spokesperson Mr George Charamba described Operation Restore Legacy which saw the resignation of former president Mugabe, as an unprecedented miracle which cannot be repeated elsewhere in the world. He lauded the intelligence of the security forces for the smooth transition which ended with no bloodshed despite millions of people spontaneously taking to the streets. All that was a true display of ubuntu.