When former president of the United States, Barack Obama, made a speech earlier this year in Johannesburg — at the 2018 Nelson Mandela annual lecture — he said that Mandela “understood the ties that bind the human spirit.”
“There is a word in South Africa — Ubuntu — that describes his greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us,” Obama said.
“Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu” or “I am, because you are” is how we describe the meaning of Ubuntu. It speaks to the fact that we are all connected and that one can only grow and progress through the growth and progression of others.
Ubuntu has since been used as a reminder for society on how we should be treating others.
Nelson Mandela once said: “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."
This example of the concept of Ubuntu shows the exact “oneness” Obama describes in his speech. As a society, looking after one another plays a major role in the success of humanity.
Mandela is the true definition of Ubuntu, as he used this concept to lead South Africa to a peaceful post-apartheid transition. He never had the intention of teaching our oppressors a lesson. Instead, he operated with compassion and integrity, showing us that for us to be a better South Africa, we cannot act out of vengeance or retaliation, but out of peace.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1996, also touched on the meaning of Ubuntu and how it defines us as a society.
“We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world,” he said. “When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity."
This is exactly what Ubuntu is about, it’s a reminder that no one is an island — every single thing that you do, good or bad, has an effect on your family, friends, and society. It also reminds us that we need think twice about the choices we want to make and the kind of impact they may have on others.
What exactly are we doing to live Ubuntu and make it a daily act in our lives?
Gender inequality, poverty, and violence happens on a global scale and these atrocities are what tells us that we need to do more as a society to actively live and breathe Ubuntu and put it into action on a daily basis.
Everyone in society needs to play a part, regardless of how small one may think it is. We all have a role to play and it’s of vital importance that our actions inspire others to want to be a part of a better and brighter future.
Ubuntu is also about justice, and particularly, justice for all people. As much as we must look after each other, it is also just as important that we exercise fairness and equality for all people regardless of race, gender, or social status.
So essentially, Ubuntu is about togetherness as well as a fight for the greater good. This is what Mandela was prepared to sacrifice his life for.
Ubuntu is the common thread and DNA that runs through the UN’s Global Goals, because without the spirit of Ubuntu within us, we cannot implement great change in our society. It’s imperative that we help all people, young and old, to achieve only the best for our future.
The Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 is presented and hosted by The Motsepe Foundation, with major partners House of Mandela, Johnson & Johnson, Cisco, Nedbank, Vodacom, Coca Cola Africa, Big Concerts, BMGF Goalkeepers, Eldridge Industries, and associate partners HP and Microsoft.