A South African Muslimah's Blog

Constructing Identity: Loud Whispers, Lasting Echoes

"umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu" – "a person is a person through other persons." September 27, 2008

Filed under: Desmond Tutu,Nelson Mandela,Thabo Mbeki,Ubuntu — Safiyyah @ 4:16 pm

So, my comment on Thabo Mbekis farewell speech comes a week late, it being Ramadan and the week-before-Eid frenzy. But also, Ive been chewing his words, tasting them, savouring them, before swallowing everything that has happened in this young democracy. I couldn’t have chosen a better time to visit home…

Call me an idealist, but when Mr Mbeki said, “wherever we are and whatever we do we should ensure that our actions contribute to the attainment of a free and just society, the upliftment of all our people, and the development of a South Africa that belongs to all who live in it.” my spirit soared with hope, that I too am a part of this South Africa and my commitment to this land counts! Putting aside the drastic change of government, resignation of ministers and swearing in of a new president, I would briefly like to expound on the matter of Ubuntu, which Mr Mbeki so vitally mentioned in his speech,

“Based on the values of Ubuntu, the significance of which we learnt at the feet of such giants of our struggle as Chief Albert Luthuli, OR Tambo, Nelson Mandela and others, we as government, embarked, from 1994, on policies and programmes directed at pulling the people of South Africa out of the morass of poverty and ensuring that we build a stable, developed and prosperous country.”

The honourable Desmond Tutu defines it as, “A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”

Nelson Mandela speaks of Ubuntu as “A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not address themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?”

Ubuntu cannot be translated, it is a concept that must be internalized. At its core is “humanness” and relationships with other people. As citizens of this world, we do not and cannot exist independently of each other,and by cementing relationships with other people, we build our own future.

Amongst the many prayers uttered this Ramadan, I pray that Allah give us all the power of Ubuntu.

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One Response to “"umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu" – "a person is a person through other persons."”

  1. bb_aisha Says:

    Ameen. Call me idealistic, but I too have hope…As for Mbeki though, while I enjoyed his speech & respect the sentiments expressed, & feel that he did appear sincere, to many the words are just hollow..Too many have not yet seen a better life. People cannot live on freedom aloneThere are a few campaigns on at the moment highlighting the message of ubuntu-'for good' being the main one. But the cynic in me wonders if it will have any effect..


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