Being human ‘on the ground’: ‘reality Ubuntu’

Excerpt taken from Ubuntu, Migration and Ministry. Being Human in a Johannesburg Church (2014), p.387-388, written by Elina Hankela.

“Can you imagine what would happen in this world if we accepted that fact about ourselves – that whether we like it or not we are members of one family?”[Desmond Tutu]. Can you imagine what would happen in inner-city Johannesburg or in the wealthy suburb and business centre of Sandton less that thirty kilometres away or in Helsinki, London, Addis Ababa, or anywhere in the world if we imagined ourselves as members of one human family? If we embodied ubuntu, provided that you have a positive view of ‘family’ that involves notions such as care, hospitality and love, this imaginary could be the reality in which we live. However, a continuous flood of news from all over the world suggests instead that we continue to live in a world of conflicts… People’s personal experiences in relation to the other, be it the other in terms of religion, race, nationality, gender, sexuality or class, unfortunately often reinforce this understanding. We as humankind do not seem to imagine ourselves as belonging together; or if we do, we have a long way to go in tangibly embodying the vision.

South Africa is no exception. The concurrent images of the politicians and marketers’ ‘ubuntu nation’, on the one hand, and of attacks against foreign township or inner-city inhabitants, on the other, raise uneasy questions. So do the figures that indicate a high level of socio-economic inequality and a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. If one is not ready to disclaim the importance of ubuntu as a moral maxim in this context – and the possibility of belonging together as a human family – on the basis of the apparent contradictions, these images prompt one to listen to grassroots communities and scrutinize the socio-moral meanings attached at being human(e) in particular 21st-century contexts. That has been my aim in examining human relationships and the notion of ubuntu ‘from below’, from a grassroots perspective through listening to informants’ views in the context of the Refugee Ministry in inner-city Johannesburg. As a researcher, I set out to ask how people at the CMM understood and defined a good human relationship; what limited and what enabled the actualization of ubuntu in the relationship between the members and the dwellers; and what these dynamics expose about being human(e) and about ubuntu.

Ubuntu as a moral notion clearly had a significant role at the CMM, and I believe that the grassroots ubuntu of the inner city I engaged with through this study has much to contribute to the conversations of those who approach ubuntu from the perspective of morality, searching for answers to questions of what ought to be. This ubuntu was not exactly the ubuntu of the politicians or marketers even though their rhetoric was part of the social context of the CMM, nor was it the ubuntu of the traditional village even though the village too played a role in the moral maps of being human(e) in the city. Rather, the way in which Hope, a member of CMM, described her church also says something about the ubuntu that surfaced in this context: “The one thing about Central is that it’s real. In as much as it is dirty, it’s a reality check.” Likewise I could describe the at times contested views of ubuntu that emerged in this study as ‘reality ubuntu‘. The particular reality in question then is an encounter between a local church and refugees and homeless people in a six-floor church building at the heart of central Johannesburg.

Clean up the rubbish: What happened to the people of Central Methodist Church?





This entry was posted in Being human, Elina Hankela, Vulnerability and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Being human ‘on the ground’: ‘reality Ubuntu’

  1. Jacques BAENI MWENDABANDU says:

    Hankela wonders what would happen in this world if we all individuals embodied a positive view of family. She perceives care, love and hospitality as central to the positive view of the family. Hankela is right that transforming this dream in reality would overcome conflicts and violence based on race, gender, nationality, and people’s opinions. Nevertheless, in the context of South Africa, Hankela acknowledges that even though politicians and marketers are aware of Ubuntu’s philosophy, attacks against foreign increase. Hankela’s main point in her research is this: the fact that there is a lot of talk about treating the other as human and about how we all become human in relation with others as the Ubuntu philosophy affirms, does not mean that in reality we treat each other in human ways. It is rather easy to say it, but to apply this philosophy in concrete reality is not so easy. That’s why she studied how people in the Methodist United church in Johannesburg dealt with each other, when it was home to about 3000 refugees. She writes about how both the local people struggled to receive them and the refugee people found it not easy but did their best to be a good guest.
    In the context of Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi, Malawians and all authorities show hospitality to foreign people. The way refugees and asylum seekers cooperate with Malawians demonstrates how Malawians embody this positive view of one human. Refugees farm in Malawi. Malawians teach refugee’s children. Additionally the interaction between refugees and Malawians is good. However, there are some isolated cases in which people are hostile to refugees.
    I agree that refugees must live in the camp and all movements must be authorized by the camp administration’s office. It is so for good reason: for the security of both refugees and Malawians. But in search of economic opportunities, a small number of refugees decides to live in Lilongwe. Some experience prejudice and discrimination. For example, on the 27th of November 2014, David Vihamba, a Congolese singer and guitar player was in a fasting prayer when he was recording his songs in a studio in Lilongwe. Coming back home, he found some bandits on his way. When the bandits discovered that he was a foreigner, they cried after: “A robber”. He ran for his life. The bandits run after him and lapidated him in Lilongwe, area 15.
    The police officers made the investigation and they found that David was not a robber. They sent the case to the court but the David’s persecutors were unknown because they had run away. If everyone embodies the value that human beings represent the image of God; Even if someone is a criminal, which David was not he also has his rights. David died but he was innocent. But even if they thought he had done something wrong, if his attackers had, instead of attacking him, taken him to a police station, he would have to defend himself.
    In short, Malawians show hospitality to foreign people, especially refugees and asylum seekers. The Ubuntu philosophy is embodied from modest citizen, to local and national leaders. Though, there are some exceptions that I cannot generalize. If each and every one considers another as his relative, as a part of human family, at hundred percent, the world would have a community free from corruption where peace, care, and compassion would broke countries’ borders.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s