Dr Dondolo reflects on Ubuntu and the Philosophy of Pan Africanism in SA: 2020 Ubuntu Dialogue

Read time: 4 mins

Dr Luvuyo Mthimkhulu Dondolo, Director and Head of UFH Centre for Transdisciplinary Studies recently participated in the 2020 Ubuntu Dialogue.

The discussion is a project between Michigan State University in the US and Stellenbosch University. It is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The dialogue has been going on for a while and prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, presenters would travel to Michigan State University for the traditional face-to-face dialogue.  This year, the discussion took place online on 14 October.

Dondolo was among several American and South African scholars who were invited to participate. He shared the stage with Prof John Edwin Mason from the University of Virginia, US.

His talk was titled: Towards Re-Africanisation: Reflections on Ubuntu and the Philosophy of Pan Africanism in South Africa

ThisWeek@FortHare spoke to him about his talk.  Due to space constraints, we are only able to publish excerpts of what he shared about this interesting topic.  We are confident that the university will provide other platforms for a thorough engagement. Please share a bit more about your topic

The thesis of my talk covers two canons:

  1. UBUNTU

(a)   Ubuntu as an  African Philosophy:  the concept of being is not in isolation from other people, as is the case in the western outlook

(b)   Ubuntu as a Social Accord:  as a communistic orientation, promotes togetherness, humanity and collective identity.

(c)    Ubuntu, Ethics and Societal Morals:  advocates for a community centeredness/centremost ethos and the moral attribute

(d)   Sensationalisation of Ubuntu, Forgiveness and National Reconciliation:  frequently referred to,  both in political contexts and in public sector service delivery as a means to bring a sense of unity and reconciliation,

 

  1. UBUNTU AND THE HISTORICAL GEOGRAPHY OF PAN AFRICANISM IN SA

The concept of Ubuntu - an integral part of the African Philosophy and encapsulates the African worldview - is underpinned by Africanism. Ubuntu as a concept of resistance against western philosophy is revolutionary and embraces Pan Africanism.

The appropriate practice of the Ubuntu philosophy has potential to significantly contribute towards the re-Africanisation movement. The link between Ubuntu and the concept of Pan Africanism further amplifies the multidimensional nature of Ubuntu philosophy.

What is the background and motivation behind your talk?

In South Africa, a lot has been written about the concept of Ubuntu.  All texts focus on various aspects of Ubuntu and its practice which has permeated the present. The Ubuntu philosophy has its own history, complexities and sociology which characterise its practice.

In recent times, the concept of Ubuntu has been oversimplified and improperly used to embrace and sustain the national reconciliation and rainbowism in post-1994 South Africa. In this liberal and populist discourse, Ubuntu philosophy is not intellectually engaged with. Rather, it is employed for political transition and consolidation of power and political advancement, as has been experienced in South Africa post-1994. This sociology of the use of the Ubuntu philosophy illustrates simplification, cultural appropriation and aesthetics of the subaltern people. The sensational and de-Africanised usage has produced a struggle for the meaning of Ubuntu.  

Some aspects of the legacies of colonialism and apartheid such as spatial, social and economic justice, coloniality of being, culture and knowledge which facilitated the phenomenon of ‘recognition by assimilation’ (Spivok, 1987); have yet to be dismantled or reconfigured. Thus, the present reality in South Africa - the outlook and attitude, social values and behaviour and national consciousness - is an antithesis of the philosophy. Ubuntu as a social accord is linked to humanity with equality, respect, ethics, morals and socio-cultural, political, economic, historical and spiritual dimensions, amongst others.  Further, it is at the centre of African outlook and being.

For Dani Nebudere, Ubuntu philosophy, in its different settings, is at the base of the African philosophy of life and belief systems in which the peoples’ daily-lived experiences are reflected.

A human being in the world of the living must be umuntu in order to give a response to the challenge of the fundamental instability of being (Ramose, 2005: 46). Lack of morality, prevalence of children and women abuse or violence against women and children, the levels of corruption in the present and racialised inequality, demonstrate the disturbance of the ‘cosmic harmony’ (Ramose, 2005) and the end of Ubuntu amongst South Africans.

What was the core message of your address?

The intentions were multifold:

  • Firstly, to give a different perspective of Ubuntu philosophy,  
  • Secondly, to showcase the link between the non-liberal account of Ubuntu with the notion of Pan Africanism, and
  • Further, to advocate for a move towards the re-Africanisation Movement. 

Dr Dondolo says his perspectives and thoughts on this topic will be documented in a book on Ubuntu Philosophy, expected to be out early next year (2021).