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Ubuntu and collectivism remain the higher order in Africa’s values system

In the midst of the battle against the Coronavirus (COVID-19), which President Cyril Ramaphosa often refers to as an invisible enemy, we should as Africans, remember that there is strength in our ethos of Ubuntu and collectivism. The African philosophy of Ubuntu talks to our ‘humanity’ in isiZulu and is an expression of our collectivism, regularly translated as ‘I am because we are’. The isiXhosa translation is ‘umntu ngumntu ngabantu’ or ‘motho ke motho ka batho’ in Sesotho.

Ubuntu or Botho also talks to empathy and compassion, characteristics that have come to the fore as we deal with the impact of this health crisis in our midst. As  Mama Miriam Makeba once said, “Be careful; think about the effect of what you say. Your words should be constructive, bring people together, not pull them apart.”

In a paper delivered at the Theosophical Society titled ‘The African Renaissance and Theosophical Movement’, Dr Mathole Motshekga cited the Ethiopian philosophy on Botho or Ubuntu conceived as “The primal unity or the one as the supreme good or simply the good.” 

Ubuntu has a direct link to our African culture, as it relates to our ideas, customs, social behaviour and shared values.  It is customary for Africans to pay their last respects to the deceased in large numbers.  This pandemic has since affected this cultural practice, making it impossible to continue the way we know how, due to the need to observe social distancing amongst others.  Travel restrictions have also seen the unthinkable happen, where we now attend “virtual” family funerals.

Origins of the saying ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is often attributed to the Nigerian Igbo proverb, ‘Ora na-azu nwa’.  It is in the spirit of the community culture, that it was unheard of to have a child being rude to an adult, irrespective of whether they are family or not.

With the 1963 foundation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the forerunner to the African Union (AU), its founding fathers had a vision of a united Africa.  These included Kwame Nkrumah, first President and Prime Minister of an independent Ghana, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Modibo Keita of Mali. The celebration of our Africanness, therefore cannot be confined to a month or Africa Day, because it goes deeper than that, it is who we are.

As Africa deals with the pandemic, and in line with the AU theme for 2020 ‘Silencing the guns: creating conducive conditions for Africa’s development’, let us be reminded of Dr Nkrumah’s words, “I am not African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me.”   The pandemic has ushered in business unusual or the new normal, which calls for organisations like Brand South Africa to examine how they deliver on the five universal features of a brand, which are purpose; positioning; promise; personality; and identity.

The continent has over centuries and decades faced many challenges, including the involuntary participation in World War I and II, colonialism, apartheid, civil wars and battling Ebola among others.  The resilience of Africa’s peoples has seen them conquer all these challenges. 

The essence of unity carried South Africa through the atrocious apartheid years, with countries such as Tanzania, Zambia, Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe paying the price for our country to attain its freedom.

Besides the outbreak wracking havoc on the health side, South Africa and the world are grappling with the impact on the economy, as most countries are currently on lockdown thus have limited economic activity.  There is no doubt that it is a tough ask balancing preservation of lives versus the collapse of the economy, it is, however, inspiring to see how our leaders prioritize human life over commercial gains.

On Africa’s abilities and development, Haile Selassie reminds us that, “This world was not created piecemeal. Africa was born no later and no earlier than any other geographical area on this globe. Africans, no more and no less than other men, possess all human attributes, talents and deficiencies, virtues and faults.”   

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a commendable vehicle towards the creation of a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of people and trade amongst African countries.

The collaborative coordinated efforts in dealing with the pandemic, from President Ramaphosa as the current AU Chair, together with his peers in the continent, has been a true showcase of Ubuntu.

In the spirit of #ThumaMina, leaders and citizens continent wide, have a collective responsibility to embrace the new normal resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our ethos of Ubuntu and collectivism should will ensure we truly embody what our African Union founding fathers dreamed we would one be. We are lucky to come from a generation of leaders who had such foresight and vision for a prosperous Africa. Through unity and solidarity, Africa can and will be a living example to inspire the world through our spirit of Ubuntu. A luta continua! DM


This article was written by Thoko Modise, the Acting Chief Marketing Officer and GM: Communication at Brand South Africa. 

Brand South Africa is the official marketing agency of South Africa with a mandate to build the country’s brand reputation and to improve its global competitiveness. 


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