“You know when ubuntu is there, and it is obvious when it is absent.” Desmond Tutu.
Ubuntu is a Zulu word that roughly describes community. But more than community – it describes the knowledge of the interconnectedness of people. Desmond Tutu goes on to describe Ubuntu in terms of understanding that our success is when others have success, your failure is mine, I am diminished when another is ridiculed, discriminated against, or harmed.
Ubuntu is a powerful concept, and one that Hope and Healing has chosen for its “name” for our Southern Africa work.
Two things struck me as I thought about Ubuntu.
First – Ubuntu describes knowledge and action. Ubuntu is not about the facts that we are interconnected, but the knowledge that we are. It is a fact that everyone is ultimately connected – especially in today’s world. A plume of smoke in Iceland can affect the delivery of flowers from South Africa! It is a fact that we in our communities are ultimately diminished when a child in the Democratic Republic of Congo is left to die because parents have to choose which child to feed, and the one chosen not to eat was because he has a disability. These are facts – but these facts do not create Ubuntu. Ubuntu is when people understand and feel this connection. Once people know that what happens to one, even someone with a disability in a small village, does affect us in some way, they will act differently. That moment, when people start to act as a community, is the beginning of Ubuntu.
Second – Ubuntu is a profoundly Christian concept. Jesus spoke often of loving even your enemy, answering the question of “who is my neighbor” by pointing to the outcasts. As Christians, we should understand even more the concept that what happens to our neighbor is a reflection on us. We are responsible for all, and we are accountable for that responsibility.
Desmond Tutu’s line I quoted earlier – “you know when Ubuntu is there, and it is obvious when it is absent” – is so powerful. I remember a girl in Kinshasa who is in a wheelchair. Her first wish was not health, or school, or even food. Her first wish was for a friend. Ubuntu was not present.
The reality for me is that as long as there are people with disabilities that are not part of their communities, not going to school, not receiving training or working, being ridiculed and discriminated against – Ubuntu is obvious in its absence.
Let’s change that!