Guest Column

How to fire a president with his support

2016-10-31 07:13

Ubuntu Must Rise

This is the story of the village that very nearly destroyed – and then saved - itself.

It was a village like many others. There were grandparents, and parents, and young people and children. There were houses, they kept cattle, there were craftsmen and craftswomen, and they had crops in the fields. But, unlike some other villages, this one was content. They did not have more cattle, they did not have better crops than other villages, and they did not have fewer quarrels than over villages. What made people in this village overcome all obstacles in their path, and what made them content, was that they had Ubuntu.

The people in this village cared for other people. They cared deeply not only for their own families, but also for their neighbours, and even for visitors. They believed that contributing to their community out of kindness and respect for one another is what really makes everyone there a person. They supported each other when someone's crop failed, they shared each other's celebrations, they raised each other's children, and they received travelling strangers with such warmth and kindness that they became known, all over the land, as The Village That Has Ubuntu.

On a particular day, there was great excitement. The people were welcoming their new chief. It was a great occasion and everybody dressed for the ceremony in their finest clothes. First, the elders spoke to welcome the chief on behalf of everyone, and then the chief spoke. He spoke with great dignity and respect, reminding the village that he was one of their own sons. His words filled the villagers with happiness and thankfulness, and when the festivities started, they danced and sang late into the night.

Unfortunately, the happiness in the village did not last forever. It did not take long for the new chief to be overcome with false pride. As he looked out over the village and the herds of cattle and the cultivated lands stretching far into the distance, the chief began to think of himself as the ruler of everything the eye could see, to do with as he pleased. He came to believe that of all the people in the village, he was the most important and the mightiest. He came to believe that he had the right, and the power, to do as he pleased.

The chief began doing bad things, even terrible things, in the village. He started taking more than his fair share of the cattle and the crops. He let his family and friends take more than their fair share, also. He did those things even when there was drought on the land and people were starving in the village. When some villagers saw what they were doing, they gave the villagers a terrible beating and swore to slaughter their families if they ever told anyone.

Soon, the happiness the village had known was long, long forgotten. Everybody lived in hunger and in fear of the chief and his people. Still, very few villagers complained, because to criticise one's chosen leader was a grave insult. And so, the chief and his people continued starving and beating the villagers, and the villagers kept enduring their suffering in silence.

As their hardship continued and grew, the villagers grew more and more disheartened and confused. They could not understand why they had to suffer so, and they could find no way to escape their suffering. In their anguish and confusion they started quarrelling among one another. "It is your fault we don't have enough cattle to fill our bellies!" some villagers shouted at the shepherds. "It is your fault we don't have enough crops to feed us!" the shepherds screamed at the planters. "It is your fault we don't have proper equipment!" the planters yelled at the craftspeople.

The villagers even started fighting with their visitors. While the quarrelling was going on, some people noticed the visitors and started shouting, "It is their fault! They are taking our food! They are making us starve!" More people joined the shouting and soon the villagers attacked their visitors. Some of the visitors managed to escape to safety, but those who did not, were robbed of what little they had and received the cruellest of beatings.

When there were no more visitors to attack, the villagers carried on fighting among themselves. But now they also felt ashamed of what they had done and of what they were doing, and that only deepened their unhappiness and made their fighting more violent. Soon, in their anguish people started burning their crops, slaying their cattle and destroying their houses.

As utter misery descended upon the village, the first surviving visitors reached their neighbours and news of what was happening spread. From that time, the village became known, all over the land, as The Village That Forgot Ubuntu.

And so, life in the village continued in sadness and in misery, until one day, someone dared to ask, "But what about the chief? Why do we starve and he can eat as much as he likes?" Almost immediately a large number of people shouted back, "Ubuntu forbids us from criticising the chief!", and a fierce argument followed. Although there had been many before, this was the greatest - and also the most important - argument ever in the history of this village. It made the village reflect upon their values again.

"It is true what you say," replied the first person, "but we are not saying disrespectful things about the chief. He is from us; he is our brother. Instead, let us look at his actions."

"And how would you measure the chief's actions?" asked someone.

"Ubuntu, Ubuntu I believe," answered another, "must be the basis of the chief's actions, and how his actions are measured. A chief who has Ubuntu does not think of himself first, he lives among us with the same lifestyle. He listens to us villagers and he seeks our advice. He does not impose his will upon us, but he allows us to lead ourselves."

"Those are indeed the actions of a chief with Ubuntu," said the villagers, "what does it say of our chief's actions?"

Almost at once, there was great uproar as the villagers realised that their anguish, suffering and starvation had begun with their chief's actions. They became extremely angry with him.

"He has done terrible things, he did this to us! He does not have Ubuntu, he made us suffer! We cannot have a chief like that, he must go!" they shouted.

And so, a meeting was arranged for the village elders to inform their chief that they no longer wanted him. There was great hopefulness in the village before the meeting.

Unfortunately for the villagers, great disappointment was soon to follow. The elders brought the news that their chief refused to give up his position.

This made the villagers even angrier and more confused than before. "Why does he want to remain chief? Why does he want to stay in that position, which he knows makes us unhappy and him unpopular?"

"It does not matter what he wants, we want for him to be gone! Let us attack him and his people!" shouted some villagers, and many more started repeating those words.

"That will never work!" shouted some others. "We are too weakened, we are hungry and we have been fighting each other, we will not win a battle against the chief and his people who are all well-fed. Instead, we will only destroy what remains of our village if we try to get rid of him through fighting!"

"So what else is there to do? Do you want us to accept this as our fate and continue living like this, till the end of our days?"

"No, no, but we have to understand that fighting the chief will be the end of us all. There will be nothing left, and no-one. But, there is another way out of this situation. We spoke about it recently - Ubuntu."

"Ubuntu. And how would having kind thoughts about other people get us out of this horrible mess?"

"We have to start by listening to the chief…"

"Listening to the chief! That's the last thing we should do!" a great many villagers shouted, "He has brought nothing but destruction and suffering to this village, and you want us to continue to obey him?!"

"No, the purpose of listening is not to take orders from the chief. The purpose is to understand him, and for him to understand us. Only when two people both know the slope of the land, will they agree on the direction the water must take. If we can at least understand the chief better, we can approach him in a better way next time, and help him understand our situation. Then we can agree on a solution."

"You people make this sound simple, but we are dealing with a wicked problem. Apparently we should not fight the chief, and talking with him brought us nowhere! How could a next time be any different?"

"By understanding why the water flowed the way it did the previous time. For example: why does the chief not want to give up his position? Let us put ourselves in his shoes."

"Well...that would mean giving up the privileges he has claimed for himself and his people… he would also give up his and his people's power over us… and he knows we are angry! He is afraid we will take revenge! He's afraid to give up his power!"

"That sounds right. He probably clings to his position because he believes we will take revenge."

"Of course he should expect revenge! After treating us with such cruelty and causing so much suffering he should expect nothing less!"

"It is true that we are all very angry. But what we know is that after wrongdoing a remedy must be found that brings reconciliation, and that restores dignity and harmony. Doing that requires compassion and humaneness from us, both of which are absent in revenge. The wronged and the wrongdoer need to have a civilised discussion, which is also absent in revenge."

"That makes absolutely no sense at all! Giving up revenge is not something we should even consider! The chief must be taught a lesson! If we do not punish him severely, how else will we prevent him and others from doing the same things in future?”

“We are accusing the chief of acting without Ubuntu. We cannot do that if we make ourselves guilty of the same thing! But most importantly, as long as we cling to revenge, the chief will keep clinging to his power. We and the chief will remain trapped in that situation forever. It will be our own decision that imprisons us!”

“This is very frustrating, we are very angry, but yes, it is true what you say. We must approach the chief with Ubuntu. We must talk to him as our brother and explain to him the hurt his actions have caused us. We must also listen to what he wants. We must explain that we do not seek to ruin him, but that we want to reconcile with him to restore harmony to our village.”

“But even if we do that, how do we know the chief will listen? He did not listen to us the previous time. Why should he listen to us now?”

“We must remind him that we are talking to him with Ubuntu. We know, and he will know, that that is the only alternative to him suffering a terrible death, along with the rest of us.”

“It is true what you say, we must remind him that Ubuntu is the only alternative to horrifying conflict. But still, we have suffered terrible harm. Even if he agrees to resign as chief, how will our dignity ever be restored?”

“We must also remember the harm the chief will continue to cause if he does not resign. If he does apologise for his actions and resigns, that will create the opportunity for us to restore our dignity. If we then forgive him, it will be our own action that ended our suffering, and that prevented future suffering, and that brought reconciliation in our village. That knowledge will restore our dignity.”

“Definitely! That’s right! We will be happy with that! There is hope for us after all! Hooray!”

“Not so fast! We all understand what we are trying to achieve. But after all this suffering, forgiving the chief will be no small thing! And he just makes some small little apology, maybe he does not even mean it! Compared to what we are being asked to contribute, is that all we ask of the chief?”

“That is an important question. How sincere will we believe the chief to be if he only needs to say ‘I am sorry’? And even more importantly, how will that prevent such things from happening again? Surely we do not want our children and their descendants ever to suffer the same hardships again? What if he says ‘I am sorry’, but his people just carry on?”

“Agreed, to reconcile we need the chief to contribute humbleness and sincerity. He must demonstrate sincere compassion for our situation. He must also help prevent our dignity from ever being destroyed like this again. But what could he do to achieve that?”

“If he agrees to name and he apologises for every single hurtful action towards us, that will demonstrate humility. It will also help him develop understanding of their wrongfulness and hurtfulness. If he also agrees to name all his accomplices and their roles, that will demonstrate his sincerity in helping us prevent this from happening again. At that point we should be ready to reconcile with him. We then hold the same discussion with his accomplices and expect the same things from them, after which we can welcome them back as brothers and sisters, too.”

“We agree! That is the answer! That is indeed precisely what we should exactly do! Hooray! Hooray! Let us go talk to the chief!”

“Not so fast! Not so fast. If we do those things, we will have reconciliation with the chief and his people. But are they the only ones to blame for our unhappiness? They are from us, they are our brothers and sisters, and the things they did arose within our community. Why did we not protect the dignity of our community, and the principles of Ubuntu, sooner? Not only that, but what about all the fighting and all the destruction in our village? That arose within us also – you did it, she did it, he did it, I did it. What good will it be, if we reconcile with the chief and his people, but we neglect the hurt we caused each other?”

For a while there was silence. No-one dared look anyone else in the eye. Eventually, the villagers started speaking in voices soft with shame and hope.

“That is very true. Reconciling with the chief and his people will not be enough. We have caused each other terrible hurt. We have to restore Ubuntu in our community and we have to each name and apologise for all the bad things we did to everyone we hurt. As we are going to do with the chief and his people, we also have to reconcile with ourselves. Then, only then, will we fully restore harmony and dignity to our village. Let us all agree to that.”

And so, filled with quiet determination, the villagers spoke with their chief, and with his people, and neighbour spoke with neighbour, and daughter with father, and mother with son, until every single person in the village had mended their relationships. And once that was done, they got together and held a feast, the likes of which had never been seen, and the likes of which will never be seen again.

They laughed and they shouted and they danced and they sang and they jumped and they hugged each other and they sobbed uncontrollably with joy. Although they had had great celebrations before, they knew this celebration was different. Although they knew the future would hold more disagreements, they knew their future was different. Their hearts were different, their village was healed. Their happiness was boundless; their love for one another had been set free.

“Ubuntu must rise! Ubuntu must rise! Ubuntu must rise!” their cries rang out into the night. And all around the village, travellers and neighbours also knew: they were celebrating remembering Ubuntu.

Before the villagers started their celebrations, there was one more thing they did. They decided that what had happened must be remembered and retold so that every man, woman and child who ever lives can know and learn from the story of The Village Who Forgot and Remembered Ubuntu.

And that is how this came to be written.

*Gielie Hoffmann is a leadership-consultant.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

* Only comments that contribute to a constructive debate will be approved by moderator.

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