Unraveling Ubuntu

As I write this, I am overly aware of the fact although we have exactly one week left in South Africa. One week left of that incredible Table Mountain view, one week left of our cozy SHAWCO house, and one week left to let my mind resort to sponge-mode and simply absorb every detail of this country.

During my time here, the most apparent thing I’ve noticed is a tangibly strong sense of community. This past week, we paid a visit to St. George’s Cathedral. It’s a beautiful building filled with colored stained-glass windows, castle-like architecture, and rich history. This space is particularly important because Desmond Tutu, refined Archibishop and social justice activist, once utilized the cathedral as both a metaphorical resistance against apartheid and as a literal meeting ground for various activist groups. Tutu coined the nickname “the people’s cathedral” because he truly believed it should be a space of inclusion, equality, acceptance, and above all, for the people. Tutu also led a huge anti-apartheid demonstration where he used the term “rainbow people” referencing the diverse population of South Africa- this is why the country is now known as the rainbow nation.

Tutu also speaks wielded of the concept of Ubuntu. In Africa, ubuntu is referring to the acknowledgment of our interdependence. Tutu writes, “I am human because I belong to the whole, to the community, to the tribe, to the nature, to the earth. Ubuntu is about wholeness, about compassion for life.” This really resonated with me because I often pride myself in being fiercely independent. However, this ideology speaks to an even braver level of humanity. The courage to show vulnerability and recognize the connectedness of my life with the lives of others.

Working with the same learners at Manenberg Primary School for the past few weeks has also shown me the beauty in vulnerability and silliness. At the very start, the kids were shy, I was nervous, and I think we all feared we wouldn’t find common ground because of the vast differences in our upbringing, environment, and lifestyle.  However, sixth graders are sixth graders all over the world. We’ve danced, colored, played endless games of tic-tac-toe, and created honest, sustainable relationships. Our lives have become interdependent on a grander scale.

South Africa as a whole is still in the works of bringing together all citizen lives as one. Post-apartheid, there are still racial tensions, segregation, and inequality. Its use of various museums, historical public sites, and memorials aid in this healing and bonding process. I have really enjoyed sites like the District Six Museum because of how personable it is. This museum specifically had so much input, artifacts, and love put in by actual District Six residents. Today, those who have been able to return- after being uprooted due to apartheid policies and the space being declared as white-only- still hold their sense of community close. Ubuntu, or the essence of humanity, is all around South Africa.

-Patty

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