Our collective tolerance of gross inequities of poverty and unemployment, and inequalities that undermine the humanity of many in our society are all markers of our failures as individuals and nation to embrace Ubuntu, writes Mamphela Ramphele.
There is overwhelming evidence that the
cost of our failure to embrace the values of Ubuntu elaborated as human rights
in our Constitution, is very high. That cost is reflected in the high levels of
violence, crime, corruption and unaccountability in both the public and private
sectors that are threatening the stability of our democracy.
All ancient cultures recognised the
importance of systematically embedding the core values of society to secure
their continuity across time and space from generation to generation. Ancient
wisdom also developed rituals for dealing with gaps that may have occurred by
omission or commission in the personal development of individuals that often
manifest in inappropriate behaviour and practices by those affected.
African wisdom has developed rituals to
deal with individuals who may have skipped important milestones in their
journey to adulthood such as “imbeleko” (introducing a child to
ancestors), “uk’oluka” (initiation into manhood) or to observe the
rigour of keeping ancestors informed about important family and kinship affairs
“ukwazisa abangasekhoyo,” to secure their continuing blessings.
It is time for us as a society to
acknowledge that we skipped an important step in our transition to democracy –
investing in embedding the values of Ubuntu in all citizens. The values of
Ubuntu are essential to enable us to successfully transition from the ugly culture
of racism, sexism and economic exploitation of the many by a few, to social
justice and democracy. Ubuntu is the foundation on which to build a society
governed by respect for human dignity and equality of all.
Our failure over the last 25 years to embrace
values-based education to prepare young people to become informed critical
thinking citizens cannot be accepted any longer as an act of omission. Too many
calls and attempts have been made over the last two decades to embed Ubuntu
values and constitutional literacy in our school curriculum’s Life Orientation
programs without much success.
The question we now need to ask is: who
stands to benefit from graduating young people who are unable to critically
evaluate what is right and wrong in terms of Ubuntu values translated in our
constitution as human rights and responsibilities? The same neglect continues
into higher education levels in many institutions from which thousands of young
people graduate without the benefit of Ubuntu values and civic literacy.
There is also a huge untapped potential of
ensuring that the millions of unemployed young people targetted by President
Ramaphosa’s Youth Employment Service (YES) to emerge out of the program with
values based civic education in addition to skills development. This is
particularly pertinent given the significance of young people in shaping the
quality of our democracy.
Our public sector is reeling under the
burden of corruption and abuse of power by elites at the expense of the majority.
Prof Stan Sangweni, a former chair of the Public Service Commission, made
efforts to embed values-based public service in the early 2000s by promoting a
Public Service Integrity Management System. Had his values-based approach been
embraced and embedded in our public service ethos, we would not have had the
unaccountability culture that culminated in state capture.
The question is why has the ANC as the
governing party over the last 25 years has not prioritised this values based
approach to transform the public service from the apartheid culture to a human
rights constitutional democratic one? Who stands to benefit from the continuing
culture of unaccountability by the majority of public servants, especially
those serving poor people at provincial and local levels?
The same must be said of the failure of
the private sector to embed Ubuntu values in personal human capital development
strategies and practices of their enterprises. How can it make business sense
to expect businesses to thrive in a constitutional democratic order without
investing in ensuring that all staff members at all levels of the company are
conscious of their rights and responsibilities as citizens and workers? How is
it possible that enterprises that profited from racist, sexist and exploitative
practices could transform themselves without active investment in changing
their institutional cultures?
Who stands to benefit?
Trust is a critical success factor in any enterprise,
including business. A shared value system is a foundation for trust in human
and social relationships. Why has the private sector not responded to the
multiple studies and surveys documenting the low levels of trust in our
society? Why would experienced strategic leaders in our business community be
blind to this key success factor? Or should we also begin to accept that this
is an error of commission and not of omission? Who stands to benefit from
continuing mis- and distrust in our society?
The trade union movement has done a
fantastic job in organising and mobilising workers across the country. It would
be enormously important for unions to transition from transactional
relationships with their members towards becoming vehicles for empowerment
through higher consciousness of the values of Ubuntu to promote respect for
human dignity and equality for all. Empowered workers who can hold their heads
high would be better able to challenge impunity in the workplace and abuse that
undermine their wellbeing. Society would benefit from empowered workers who
would be more productive and able to protect their pension funds and benefits
to their dependents.
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s
exasperation with the ease with which citizens seem to uncritically follow
leaders is unlikely to rouse us from our collective gullibility to leaders who
betray their promises to voters not once, but many times. Challenging purveyors
of fake news who promote divisions and populist responses to complex
issues can only come from critical thinking citizens. The lack of shared
values by which we judge right and wrong and make the choices by which live as
a society, makes building trust in institutions and social relationships
Our collective tolerance of gross
inequities of poverty, unemployment and inequalities that undermine the
humanity of many in our society are all markers of our failures as individuals
and nation to embrace Ubuntu. If we were to live the values of Ubuntu, our
consciousness of our interconnectedness to, and interdependence with our fellow
human beings, would not permit us to tolerate the violation of their dignity
and denial of their basic rights.
Scandinavian countries have successfully
transformed themselves from feudal societies in the 19th century to the current
prosperous social democratic countries by using the equivalent of Ubuntu, Bildung, to promote a shared value
system. Bildung is a life long process of consciousness raising to promote
the maturation process of individuals to assume ever bigger responsibilities
toward family, friends, fellow citizens, society, humanity, shared global
heritage and to other species, whilst enjoying personal freedoms. They recognise
and promote the value system that to be human is to be custodians of self,
others and nature.
We have a homegrown remedy for the predicament
we find ourselves in as a society still in transition from our ugly past that
is haunting the present and imprisoning the future. The remedy lies in taking a
long-term view in investing in the embrace of the values of Ubuntu at all
levels of society – the home, community, schools, faith-based places of worship,
unions and workplaces. What stops us?
– Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA.
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