UUnder the title of a 1986 newsletter, “Ubuntu, Abantu, Abelungu”, Black Sash, the anti-apartheid organization founded as a vanguard of the opposition of white liberal women in South Africa , reported the startling findings of a white field worker in his program against forced land abductions – Black people in the country don’t see whites as people. That is, we do not consider them as Abantu. Instead, they are abelungu.
“Ubuntu, Abantu, Abelungu” appeared a few years before the late Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu launched Ubuntu – the African philosophy best understood through the proverb found in Bantu languages across the continent, “umuntu ngumuntu Bantu ngabanye(A person is a person through other people) – in the global imagination while chairing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of post-apartheid South Africa (TRC).
“Ubuntu is very difficult to render in a Western language,” Tutu acknowledged in his book No Future Without Forgiveness. In his old classic African Religions and Philosophy Kenyan theologian John Mbiti made famous Ubuntu’s philosophy of mutual personality as an African humanist analogue to the “I think, therefore I am” of Enlightenment humanism in translating “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantuLike “I am because we are”.
Mbiti’s classic humanist translation of Ubuntu obscures the fact that, unlike the Western conception of the human, the African conception of the person is an ever-evolving social being. Ubuntu considers it a person, umuntu, among the people, Abantu, we must continually defend the personality of others. It is for this reason that when I behaved badly, especially to the detriment of others, my mother, like many other elders, berated me in our mother tongue, Shona: “It’s munhu! “ “Be a person!
“[The] the white man has become umlungu because of us, ”dispossessed farmer Aron Mlangeni said in “Ubuntu, Abantu, Abelungu ”. Mlangeni articulated what philosopher Ndumiso Dladla describes it as “Ubuntu as a Critical African Philosophy of Race” rooted not in biology, but in historical and social ethical relationships. After centuries of conquest, the colonizing state formalized the dispossession of land through the devastating 1913 Indigenous Lands Act, which seized 87% of the land for the white settler minority, leaving 13% for the majority. black woman, who was forced to work in mining and cheap farming. . Given the unjust historical conquest of South Africa’s land and the continuing relationship of dispossession, it is no surprise that the blacks of the land, i.e. us, do not view the whites as from Abantu. Instead, they are abelungu.
On the eve of the reign of the black majority, the whiteness of the world has held its breath in anticipation of a “night of the long knives” for white South Africa. Instead, South Africa gave a world at the end of history a “miracle” – purposeful liberation, a moral bow leaning toward justice, a rainbow.
After the negotiated settlement guaranteed black political rights with protection of white property rights, the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act mandated the creation of the TRC. The Dutch conquest of Cape Town in 1652 sparked genocide, slavery, plunder and dispossession of land, but the TRC had a limited mandate to hear allegations of human rights abuses between March 1, 1960, the month of the Sharpeville massacre, and May 10, 1994, date of the inauguration of Nelson Mandela.
Without a mandate to straighten out the historic conquest of lands and peoples, Tutu’s impossible task was to use Ubuntu to reconcile the conflicting worlds of Abantu and abelungu in a nation of what he called the “Rainbow People of God”. Like Allan Boesak, the anti-apartheid leader and minister of the Dutch Black Reformed Church who, alongside Tutu, helped cement the centrality of black liberation theology in the Black Consciousness Movement, the theology of Tutu’s Grace and Forgiveness was based on a Christianized Ubuntu.. “African jurisprudence is restorative rather than punitive,” said Tutu, describing the rationale for the amnesty at the TRC.
If white South Africa has not repented (apartheid-era President PW Botha said “I am only apologizing for my sins before God”) the farmers are not listening ” ), he said he was surprised and grateful for the lack of “bitterness” and “revenge” of black South Africa.
“Incredibly, God sowed the seeds of a gracious attitude, of the spirit of Ubuntu, in the hearts and minds of the entire African community, ”proclaimed Beyers Naudé, the minister of the Dutch Reformed Church who was one of the few Afrikaner leaders to publicly oppose apartheid.
Naudé’s fear of the seemingly miraculous transition revealed some of the ways that even the most sincere and committed part of white South Africa had failed to fully consider what Ubuntu’s ethical demands were. require them to have meaningful reconciliation with blacks and become Abantu.
As black people we ask “Uxolisa ngani? “ (“What are you atoning for?“), because it is understood that ukuhlawula, paying reparations for damage caused to others, is indivisible from ukubuyisa, restoration of damaged relationships. Ubuntu demands costly forgiveness – you can’t receive forgiveness without giving up something in contrition. The TRC recommended reparations to the victims and families who testified. Tutu later called for a wealth tax for all white South Africans. The government ignored both recommendations. Too often calls for national repair and restoration are mistaken for retribution, but Ubuntu among the Abantu requires the recovery of relationships through inhlawulo yokubuyisa, repairs for restoration.
Today we Blacks, 79% of the South African population, own 4% of the farmland, while white South Africans, 9% of the population, own 72% of the farmland. In 2014, Oxfam reported that two white men – Johann Rupert and Nicky Oppenheimer – owned as much wealth as the bottom half of the population. The 74% youth unemployment rate – concentrated among black “freeborn” – is the highest in the world. It is therefore not surprising that in their statement to the 2015 hearings of the South African Commission on Human Rights, Abahlali baseMjondolo, a movement of Durban shack dwellers whose members were arrested, assaulted and murdered. in their struggle for post-apartheid liberation, shouted that the poor Blacks “are not counted as human beings”.
In other words, despite Ubuntu flourishing in post-apartheid discourse, lending its name to software, businesses, books, and philanthropic organizations, South Africa is a country in which we have, as Dladla argues, Ubuntu without Abantu. Just as black people have been dispossessed of their land, Ubuntu has been dispossessed of its deeply radical demands for historical and ethical social relations among peoples.
In a country abandoned by the loss of Tutu, it is still common to hear black people answer the question “Ngumuntu na? “ (Are they a person?), “Cha, ngumlungu. “ (No, they’re white.)
So that white South Africans are no longer abelungu, settlers in Africa, and become Abantu, people of Africa, they should restore what made them settlers in the first place: the land. Land restoration would initiate the national process of ukubuyisa ngokuhlawula, the reestablishment of relations through reparations, between Abantu and abelungu in a common world of people linked by Ubuntu.
Until there is a real calculation with the repairs required by Ubuntu, black and white South Africa will continue to live in worlds apart like Abantu and abelungu. White South Africa, nixolisa ngani? What are you expiring with?