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Citizenship

How South Africa Taught Me Community

By Keziah Doudy-Yepmo

Keziah is a 2018 Curtis Scholar from London who tells us how South Africa inspired her to want to work together as one global community fighting injustice.


“Ubuntu” is the word that defined my South African experience.

It means “I am because we are.” It is the idea that individual development and growth is rooted in the community one belongs to. It encourages us to humbly acknowledge that we cannot achieve greatness without the people who surround us, and reminds us of our duty to care for one another.

‘Ubuntu’ encourages us to leave our selfish ways and play a part in fostering the development of our neighbours. We do not lose anything by helping others to gain; if anything, the experience enriches us all for the better.

This isn’t some sort of distant and ancient philosophy. Rather, it is one we saw in action each and every day, as it facilitated a type of leadership that massively inspired me. The leaders we met at the various non-profits we visited emphasized to me an aspect of leadership thatwhich I was aware of, but that I had not given much thought to. They made me think about what it meant for me, and the leader I want to be.

That aspect of leadership is sacrifice.


Keziah talking to a student in Johannesburg. Photo Credit: Makhulu Productions

In Kliptown, we met Tulani, leader of Kliptown Youth Programme, a scheme which supports the educational development of young people from primary school to high schoolers to higher education. Tulani has dedicated his entire career to nurturing young people in the township wherein which he grew up, helping them realize their full potential.

The experience cemented for me the importance of not just climbing the ladder and ascending to great heights, but sometimes taking some time to stop, hold the ladder steady, and help those coming up behind us — or even pushing them ahead of us.

Ubuntu is a concept typically applied on a local scale, but I believe the adoption of this concept worldwide has the potential to change the world. Being in South Africa, and experiencing Ubuntu directly, has inspired me to take that philosophy back home to the UK. This is important because it is a place thatwhich exemplifies the Western values of neo-liberalism and self-interest, which, history proves, has often come at the expense of others.

I own a social action project called The Black Narrative which documents the lives of young black people and empowers them to talk about their experiences. Visiting South Africa and learning Ubuntu has inspired me to use this platform to spread this message within my community and across the UK through talks I give to young people at Uuniversity.

Particularly as it tries to re-establish international relationships post-Brexit, the UK has an opportunity to apply Ubuntu and redefine itself and the relationship it has with developing countries in a new and positive way. It’s up to us to spread the message, one by one, and allow the power of Ubuntu to change the world we live in.