Groom youths to become leaders imbued with ubuntu

In our world where lack of cash reduces the poor to be victims of legal injustice, and the rich get away with crime, we should teach our children that this flies in the face of our ancestral heritage - ubuntu

SOWETAN recently carried a column by its editor, Mphumelelo Mkhabela, that said ubuntu is misused by many for selfish interests.

The article captured my imagination. I believe that ubuntu should be a formal guiding philosophy of our education system from primary level, to groom youth to become leaders imbued with ubuntu.

Leading the initiative would be black journalists.

That the concept of ubuntu is distorted is not an accident of history, but a consequence of colonialists' machinations.

The destruction of this beautiful heritage was further endorsed by those who un-critically imbibed colonialists' education which dished a disfigured version of ubuntu. The new version taught that Africans forgive and forget, letting bygones pass without redress for historical injustice. Nothing could be further from the truth.

History informs us that even the Basotho King Moshoeshoe, renowned for his sense of botho, did not hesitate to put colonialists in their place when his humility was mistaken for meekness.

In Antjie Krog's book Begging to Be Black, the king is recorded: "The trader who fancies that the place he is sojourning in belongs to him, must dismiss the thought, if not, he is to quit; for there is no place belonging to the whites in my land, and I have granted no white man a place, either by word, or by writing".

Moshoeshoe was not prepared to allow ubuntu- botho to be misused or to allow Africans to be abused in the name of ubuntu.

It was against this background that he observed that when the Basotho drove cattle belonging to whites, they called it "stealing" and when whites drove Africans cattle "they say they recapture or replace their stolen ones."

He told the colonialists: "[A]ll property reared and nurtured on . our stolen land remains our property. [Y]ou white people do not steal cattle but you steal whole countries. "

What emerges clearly is that ubuntu did not mean turning one's cheek in the face of aggression.

It is black journalists' responsibility to clarify this or future African generations will endure insults endured by their ancestors, who were told that Africa had no history, the only history was that of Europeans in Africa. The signs are there already .

The other journalist who has written widely on this issue is Max du Preez. In his Book of Warriors, Lovers and Prophets, I read how Moshoeshoe's mentor, Mohlomi, taught the king that to be a great ruler his rule should be based "upon peace, justice and botho".

These concepts were not abstract for Africans. The rule of peace, justice and botho meant that a ruler should always "care for the needy, especially children".

Government based on botho meant that "elderly men and women must be so looked after . that the unbearable burden of old age shall not be a source of discomfort for them".

Legally, it meant that in disputes, judges should "not allow elements of preferences based on wealth, status or prestige to influence and tarnish any of your decisions".

Mohlomi said: "The law knows no one as poor".

In our world where lack of cash reduces the poor to be victims of legal injustice, and the rich get away with crime, we should teach our children that this flies in the face of our ancestral heritage - ubuntu.

Where those who once called themselves freedom fighters amass wealth, while many wallow in abject poverty, we must teach our children that this is an insult to the memory of our ancestors.

Teach our children , as Basil Davidson says in his book The Search For Africa: A History in the Making , that in Kilwa, southern Tanzania, a visitor wrote about an African king who was so generous, that the traveller "had seen him give the clothes off his back to a beggar who asked him for them".

This is the ubuntu of our ancestors, a legacy that we must bequeath to our children. We have to, for our children's sake, who must have a better future.

  • Sesanti is a lecturer in Stellenbosch University's department of journalism and writes in his personal capacity.

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