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We need to break our false belief in ubuntu and with it the legitimacy of Armani-suited predators

We need to break our false belief in ubuntu and with it the legitimacy of Armani-suited predators
Illustrative image | Sources: South African men in Qunu, South Africa. (Photo: EPA / Jim Hollander) | Unsplash | freepng

For South Africa to prosper once again, we must reclaim our right to use words with sharp edges. Words designed to cut. Words that are capable of precision messaging.

I watch the sun rising over the ocean. The rays of light splay out across the water, in a display reminiscent of images that my Sunday school teacher used to show us kids. The Vanishing Forest is very tranquil as the shrill call of the birds proclaim the presence of life. The scene is one of great tranquillity, but I know that the real world out there is anything but calm and orderly.

Against the backdrop of the Loerie, recently renamed a Turacao, I reflect on the juxtaposition of serenity and our long slow descent into anarchy. Here I am confronted with two pieces of reality, and neither speaks to each other. It is surreal. I wonder if I am losing my mind. Is this air of serenity genuine? How can it be so tranquil, when I know that out there, undercurrents of discontent advance like the relentless ooze of a lava flow across the landscape, consuming all in its path. Unstoppable. Predictable in its destruction, yet at the same time underpinned by the hope that our community will somehow be spared.

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Miracles happen. I have witnessed them in my own life, when we rose as a nation and collectively decided to end a protracted conflict by negotiating a new constitution that was inclusive of all. That was certainly a moment of triumph, for a nation teetering on the edge of the abyss, fighting for all it was worth not to fall into the terrifyingly uncharted void below.

South Africa has always lived with the seething undercurrents of anarchy, deftly masked by the undeniable beauty of the landscape, and the mythical belief in utopian ideals like ubuntu. As a cloud parts above the sea in front of me, a shaft of light descends like a vision from God, and for a moment I watch in awe. I am alone with my thoughts. A jumble of emotions flowing through my veins, my mind randomly throwing up memories long suppressed, but now running rampant in the wee hours of the morning when I am alone. Totally alone, except for my constant companion, the Black Dog.

On this surreal stage before me, I find myself asking whether ubuntu is real. 

We throw the concept around in everyday discourse, as if it actually exists, but like the elusive tokoloshe, many know of it but few have ever seen it. Is ubuntu my own tokoloshe? 

In the predawn darkness, I find myself flashing back to the 1980s and 1990s, for that is where I think we are heading in the near future. I recall, as a young soldier, being called out in support of the riot police to an incident in which a person had been necklaced. I have written a short story about that incident, which I called the Thousand Yard Stare, so there is no need to rehash all of the gory details. But today I remember that in the crowd of thousands, not one person lifted a finger to help that poor victim. I distinctly recall the shock I experienced, when witnessing the total lack of empathy in the milling crowd, all of whom were profoundly aware that a human being was being burned to death in their presence. It was there that I realised ubuntu is nothing but a myth that we have conjured up, like a security blanket, to make us feel good about ourselves.

Where is the ubuntu in our present leadership structure? Where is the empathy for the plight of the growing number of unemployed? Where is the ubuntu in the decision to invest the tourism budget into a British Premier League football club?

Where is the moral high ground that allows our embattled regime to publicly align themselves with Russia, an international pariah shunned by the law-abiding citizens of the free world, ostensibly on our behalf? 

Where is the empathy when we are once again seduced into compliance by the words, “my fellow South Africans”, that starts a rambling conversation expressing shock at not knowing how yet another catastrophe could have befallen the hapless people, but delivered by a billionaire oligarch devoid of integrity. 

Read more on Daily Maverick: Let’s not beat about the bush — South Africa is a failed state, now let’s all stand up and fix it

We live our lives under the manipulation of propaganda, delivered by a predatory government, whose sole purpose is to plunder the public purse at the direct expense of the growing army of destitute citizens. These unfortunate victims have no realistic chance of ever living a life of quality, held in miserable bondage by an uncaring regime, intent only on self-enrichment of the elite, and those cadres with “connections”.

Ubuntu is but a figment of our collective imagination. It is nothing more than an instrument of control, in an arsenal of subliminal weapons of mass destruction that pacify the population, preventing the seething lava from spontaneously erupting into a real live volcano of discontent. 

The myth of ubuntu is the lever that controls the Stockholm Syndrome, which is what holds us all in perpetual bondage. We are hostage to a system of sophisticated extortion, over which we have no control as individuals, wrapped up in a blanket of soothing language that has filtered out the sharp edges of words of criticism, replacing them with the blunter-edged concepts like ubuntu.

That security blanket is not our friend, for it preselects what we can say, think and articulate. It soothes our inflamed rash of discontent, by attenuating the worst of our impulses to shout out – enough!

Today I am shouting out by saying that ubuntu is dead, and probably never really existed in anything other than fairy stories conjured up by our own minds, and deftly manipulated by our handlers whose task it is to pacify us. 

Today I am shouting out by saying injustice knows no colour, so to trivialise discontent by calling it racist, is nothing more than the deliberate blunting of the sharp edges of words of criticism. For, I learned many years ago, when I was a young and impressionable student, that “a word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged, but the skin of a living thought” (Justice MT Steyn). 

Today I am saying that our central dilemma as a nation, is our false belief in ubuntu, which has given legitimacy to the Armani-suited predators who call themselves Comrade, possessing a divine right “to feed” without hindrance.

As a new shaft of light descends from the heavens, I feel truly inspired today. In fact, I feel profoundly liberated, for I know what needs to be done. 

For South Africa to prosper once again, we must reclaim our right to use words with sharp edges. Words designed to cut. Words that are capable of precision messaging. As Africans we must be guided by what we observe in the bush, when the hyenas approach a fresh kill made by a pride of lions, and contestation over the spoils becomes literally a question of survival. Those spoils are being dominated by predators who have blunted the only weapon we have in that melee called just allocation of the resources on which an entire society needs to feed.

We must rise and break the shackles of the Stockholm Syndrome, for they hold us in perpetual bondage. We must call it out the way we see it. Theft is theft, no matter what it is called by our Thief in Chief, when next he tries to soothe the irritation on our skins. Right is right, and wrong is wrong, but wrong can never be right. 

We need to rediscover our moral compass as a nation. We need to recognise leadership for what it really is, for most of our current leaders are weak and predatory, but we also have latent leadership with growing credibility, possibly ready to throw their hat into the ring.

Read More on Daily Maverick: Murder we Vote? Arresting South Africa’s slide into a Failed State Anarchy

South Africans are incredible people. We are the only nation in the world in which a sitting government voluntarily relinquished power in the belief that it would prevent a civil war. We are the only nation where a prisoner of conscience looked at his jailer, saying you are as much a victim of the system as I am. We are the only nation that possessed weapons of mass destruction – chemical, biological and nuclear – which we voluntarily relinquished in the interests of a better future for all. We are the only nation that attempted to reconcile by bringing victim and perpetrator face to face in the quest for justice, even if the final result disappointed many.

We are a remarkable people, but we have been lulled into a dangerous sense of complacency. The verbal balm, a potent cocktail of guilt and false belief in the normative values of a mythical ubuntu, has lulled us into compliant submission. The seething rage of the masses can only be bottled up temporarily before the flowing lava erupts into a volcano of unstoppable destruction.

We are enabling our long slow descent into anarchy, by allowing ourselves to be deceived by vicious predators, dressed in Armani, disarming us by blunting our sharp words of effervescent criticism. The only thing we truly own are our thoughts, and the way we weaponise those is through the messaging we use, packaged in words. 

So, words matter, and we need to claim back the right to use them wisely, no longer fearful of any backlash. DM

Anthony Turton is a trained scientist specialising in water resource management as a strategic issue with a robust publication record



Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • William Kelly says:


  • Sydney Kaye says:

    Is Ubuntu real? Do you really have to ask the question

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Amen again

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Ironically, during the early days of Apartheid,in the ‘50’s there was a true spirit of Ubuntu- forced segregation and discrimination gave black people a common enemy and forced them to become a community no matter their faction, language or religion. Strange as it may seem, race and politics united and inspired a sense of Ubuntu whether being separate from families whilst working on the mines or a domestic or gardener in white suburbia.
    That spirit no longer exists- the struggle for liberation has been rewarded with capitalist greed, artificial values and a sense of entitlement without time to adjust to this new world that doesn’t seem to care. Political ambitions, hunger for power or possessions and greed is now normal, there is nothing or no one to fight other than self loathing, greed and the worst of human excess- a fight that has not yet been fought by any of us. The time will come though…Climate Change will soon force us all to find the spirit of Ubuntu again – hopefully!

  • Mike Meyer says:

    Anyone who has undertaken more than a cursory reading of South African history, from pre-colonial times, via the mFecane and the so-called “Peoples War”, to the cANCer infested previous 30 years would know without any doubt that ‘Ubuntu’ is and always was nothing but a fairytale.

  • Larry Dolley says:

    Well said!!!

  • Graeme de Villiers says:

    What a stunningly accurate article.
    This . . . “The myth of ubuntu is the lever that controls the Stockholm Syndrome, which is what holds us all in perpetual bondage. We are hostage to a system of sophisticated extortion, over which we have no control as individuals, wrapped up in a blanket of soothing language that has filtered out the sharp edges of words of criticism, replacing them with the blunter-edged concepts like ubuntu.”
    It has become a virtue of convenience, to be used only for special loccasions when collective hands have been found in the cookie jars of our psyches. It’s been all too apparent that we have become victims of the hype.

  • Rory Short says:

    I am because you are is such a profound statement about life that most of us are unable to grasp it’s implications or put them into practice in our lives.

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