The Nguni phrase, “umntu ngumntu ngabantu” can be translated to imply that to be human is to recognize the humanity of others.
It is from this that the notion of Ubuntu springs.
The spirit of Ubuntu, to my understanding, means essentially, to be humane and to ensure that human dignity is at the core of our actions, thoughts and deeds when interacting with others.
Ubuntu is showing care and concern for our neighbours, it is lending a helping hand and displaying an understanding of the dignity with which human beings ought to be treated, simply because they are human.
Ubuntu exists because human beings exist and seeks to provide a code of conduct for the coexistence of human beings.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu expounds on this human connectedness, where he defines Ubuntu to mean that, “my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in what is yours”.
I find the reflections on the spirit of Ubuntu to be befitting as I celebrated Human Rights Day because I am of the view that this notion recognizes humanity and dignity which is the basis from which we have human rights.
Human Rights Day is an important day in our lives as we remember to protect our rights in our beloved country.
As a conscious member of society,
I can never forget the courage of the South Africans who rose in unison on 21 March 1960 in an attempt to proclaim their rights.
The Sharpeville Massacre is central as it affords us to remember the cost paid in dear lives to enforce human rights.
It was an outcry and an outburst at the inhumane treatment that came with the Apartheid regime.
Understanding the expectations of how humans ought to be treated becomes imperative in ensuring that such events as the Sharpeville Massacre never occur again.
Ubuntu firmly suggests a humane conduct and a pivotal guide for society to follow in response to what comes naturally.
The South African Bill of Rights, which forms the second chapter of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, embeds the rights of all people in our country in an enduring affirmation of the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.
In respect to the right to human dignity, the South African Bill of Rights states that “everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected.”
I choose to embody the principles and the spirit of Ubuntu in order to exercise my right to human dignity and to duly observe that I afford the humans around me their right to human dignity as well.
What becomes apparent as one observes the state of our nation- in particular the major challenges we face as a country- namely unemployment, inequality and poverty, is that our we owe it to ourselves and our children to restore the human dignity of our people.
Lest we forget that at the heart of our human rights and the rights we enjoy today as detailed in our Constitution, is our ability to practice and to show Ubuntu to one another.
I realise that the social ills which we experience in our communities across the country, such as crime, gender based violence, HIV/AIDS and human trafficking, need to be juxtaposed with a positive response from civil society, guided by humane acts as per the practice of Ubuntu.
If each one of us in our individual capacity, whether we represent government, corporate South Africa, the community and/or society, were to acknowledge our human connectedness, we would think twice before we speak and act, particularly around the consequences of our spoken word and actions.
It is encouraging to see some evidence of the practice of Ubuntu in our country in the active campaigns around some of these issues as well as the inculcation of moral values and the guarding against hate speeches and racial utterances.
It shows that the spirit of Ubuntu is to a degree prevalent in our society and can be further encouraged to be the order of the day amongst all people in South Africa.
In closing his tribute to former president Nelson Mandela and his family at a Mandela memorial service, it was the former U.S President Barack Obama who said: “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”.
.Bongiwe Beja is the General Manager at Silulo Ulutho Technologies (Silulo), a fast growing technology and education social enterprise which has significant impact in the emerging, township and rural communities across South Africa.