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Human beings are wired for interconnectedness and inter...

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Humans are wired for interconnectedness and interdependence – not for conflict and killing each other


Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA and Co-President of the Club of Rome.

Our current reality is not a reflection of the failure of consciousness to save us from self-harm and killing each other – we are in this sorry state as a nation because we have lost our way from the wisdom of ubuntu. 

The human species is the only one that is wired to be utterly dependent on the nurture and support of others for a very considerable time at the beginning of life, as well as at the end of life. The essence of being human is to be relational – interconnected and interdependent. 

Ismail Lagardien (“Black consciousness won’t save us from harming, maiming and killing each other”, Daily Maverick 21 April, 2022) makes very important statements about human failures to live our wiredness for interconnectedness and interdependence, but goes too far in asserting that we are wired for conflict and killing each other. He also correctly reminds us that assertions of black consciousness as the panacea would not save us from harming and killing each other.

But Lagardien neglects to go beyond slogans of black consciousness. The philosophy of black consciousness was essential to triggering self-liberation and higher consciousness of our innate capacity as human beings to learn, and to reclaim our essence of being relational. This is expressed in the value system that affirms human rights, dignity and reverence for life – ubuntu.   

It was the coming into consciousness as a people that enabled us to cast aside the “non-European/non-white” label that had been imposed on us by our colonial conquerors, the capture of mindsets to regard them as superior, and a standard against which to measure what it means to be human.  

Coming into consciousness liberated us from acquiescence to the inferiority complex intended to keep us subservient and self-identifying as non-Europeans and non-whites. The proclamation of being black and proud was an essential first step in mental and psychological liberation.

Ubuntu values lived out as practical manifestations of this consciousness of our human beingness are what reignited the struggle for freedom in South Africa in the early 1960s. Engagement in practical projects to affirm the humanity of the most vulnerable, and mobilisation of a people imprisoned by fear, culminated in the Soweto and other nationwide uprisings that eventually led to the 1994 political settlement. 

Our current reality is not a reflection of the failure of consciousness to save us from self harm and killing each other, but a negation of the essence of the ubuntu values that express the essence of being human. We are in this sorry state as a nation because we have lost our way from the wisdom of ubuntu. 

Wars and conflicts are manifestations of the brokenness of our relational essence as humans. In the same way, planetary emergencies – climate crises and pandemics – are manifestations of our suicidal “war on nature”. UN Secretary-General António Guterres poignantly pointed out in his December 2021 statement to the UN General Assembly that human beings cannot win the war on nature – it is suicidal. Humanity’s suicidal war on nature does not negate our essence as part of nature, and our being utterly dependent on nature for life support. 

Our destructive actions against nature and other living beings on our planet cannot be regarded as an indicator of being wired for destruction. Humanity has an infinite inner capacity to learn anew how to be human again. 

Indigenous people across the globe have retained this wisdom of ubuntu, expressed in different forms in the diversity of languages humanity has elaborated. The late Bob Randall, a Yankunytjatjara elder and Keeper of Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia, explained how the connectedness of every other living thing is not just an idea but a way of living. To him the source of troubling emotions and most unhealthy thoughts is not people, but the unconscious feeling of disconnectedness. What heals us is conscious reconnection to the essence of our being human. 

Robin Wall Kimmerer, a North American indigenous leader and academic, puts it this way: “Plants give us food and breath. The breath of plants gives life to plants. Science can give us knowing, but caring comes from someplace else.”

What we are experiencing in our country, continent and the world are not expressions of human wiredness to self- and mutual destruction, but the consequences of shutting down our consciousness to being inextricably interconnected and interdependent in the web of life, which is the source of caring. Shutting down this consciousness is intended to give us permission to do what is inhuman, what is suicidal, and what gives us short-tem gratification, but long-term grief.  

We also need to heed the powerful message that has come from the recently published 6th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which for the first time in its 30-year history has named colonial conquest and its ongoing impacts as the root cause of the climate crisis. It points out that colonialism was not just an economic exploitative process, but a terraforming process that disturbed harmony in nature and between people. 

The difference between this 6th report and previous ones is in the inclusive process adopted that brought in the voices of social scientists, indigenous people and young people. The process reminds us of the importance of recognising that diversity of perspectives enables deeper and better understanding.

The devastating floods and loss of life and property in KwaZulu-Natal are a poignant reminder that our transition from colonial/apartheid terraforming impacts is far from where we should have been 28 years after the dawn of democracy. We have failed to build on the self-liberating consciousness that inspired the reignition of our struggle for freedom in the late 1960s. We have failed to follow through with the healing of the wounds inflicted by the severing of our relationships to one another and to nature as we committed to in the preamble of our Constitution. We have betrayed the core values of ubuntu enshrined in our Constitution. 

KZN disasters – the insurrection and the floods – are a direct result of the governance culture driven by State Capture that the ANC as the governing party has learnt from the past colonial/apartheid goverments. Successive ANC governments have sought to put the interests of their party above those of ordinary citizens they are meant to serve.  

The ANC, like the colonial/apartheid governing parties have done over the hundreds of years of colonialism, has conflated party and state to justify plunder of public resources. State Capture, by its nature, is suicidal to both the nation and the plunderers. 

Our national institutions have been systematically undermined with devastating impacts on the most vulnerable among us. The failure to maintain and build sustainable infrastructure for our growing population post-1994 has condemned poor people to lives of indignity, squalor and high risk.

The capture of Eskom by ANC interests has turned what was a world-class energy generator and supplier into a colossal inefficient indebted utility. The tragedy of a country endowed with 365 sunny days, wind, and biofuel opportunities as well as the technological expertise to harvest this endowment into an abundance of renewable energy, makes one weep.

The failure to transform apartheid’s geospatial discriminatory structures continues to confine the poorest people furthest away from the resources concentrated in the centres of cities. The failure to transform education continues to steal the futures of generations of young people, confining them to the prisons of poverty, unemployment, and growing inequalities at all levels. The failure to transform land and property relations undermines our future as a well-endowed, beautiful country able to promote wellbeing for all and sustain healthy ecosystems.

We need to return to the source of our inspiration that led to the success of our liberation Struggle. It starts with self-liberation of our consciousness about the essence of being human as interconnectedness and interdependence – the I am because you are – that guided the likes of Robert Sobukwe, Stephen Bantu Biko, Nelson Mandela, Albertina Sisulu and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. 

All humans have the innate capacity to return to the source of caring that ubuntu values call us to. It is up to each of us to rise and heed the call. DM


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  • The failure of leadership and values underlies the current problems besetting our beloved country. Isolating certain aspects from the past avoids personal and collective responsibility. The scale of systemic corruption in South Africa is horrific, a crime against all citizens, the poor and under privileged in particular. Ubuntu is absent from the the corridors of power in our country.
    The struggle for freedom was not just a spiritual quest, it was also a quest for freedom from want, equality, and equal opportunity – which SA leadership avarice and greed has betrayed.
    This is not about race, it is about noble aspirations, and action.
    History testifies to man’s propensity for violence, fuelled by hate and power.
    Our constitution is a guide to peaceful co-existence, relative prosperity, justice for all – and should be the supreme authority in South Africa, upheld by all.

  • While the headline to this opinionista piece suggests a ‘contradiction’ of Lagardien’s perspective, they actually complement each other. The one without the other does not exist, they co-exist … suggesting neither is ‘wrong’ with each emphasising their respective perspective. Somewhat like the Tolstoyian ‘War and Peace’ ! The propensity for people to ’embrace’ war especially under ‘populist’ (also masculine) leadership is well known, while the embracing of peace is a far more complex and subtle process which requires reflective and inspirational leadership, a quality in short supply. The latter is also sceptical of the politically motivated notion of ‘neutrality’ in matters of war and peace.

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