By drjohnmbuya, 23 February, 2013


Ubuthu is a metaphor that describes the significance of group solidarity, on survival issues, that is so central to the survival of African communities, who as a result of the poverty and deprivation have to survive through brotherly group care and not individual self-reliance. This practice of collective unity is not new and not peculiar to Africa. All dispossessed groups wherever they are in the world, Harlem in New York, Brixton in the UK, Alex in Johannesburg, Mbare in Harare, the informal swamps in Nairobi subscribe in practice to this concept of Ubuthu. It is a concept of brotherhood and collective unity for survival among the poor in every society. It is also called “Umfowethu” in Zulu or a son of the soil.

The cardinal belief of Ubuthu is that a man can only be a man through others. In its most fundamental sense it stands for personhood and morality.

When the colonizers came to colonize Africa, that is, the British, the Dutch, the Germanys, the French, the Portuguese, the Arabs and all the rest. The first thing they successfully destroyed was the spirit of Ubuthu. They drew borders all over the African continent, they sow seeds of hatred between different tribes. They started giving arms and ammunition to certain groups on the continent. As the tribal wars burns up on the African continent. They started picking up gold and diamonds from the ground while the tribal wars were burning. They defeated the Ubuntu spirit.

The Chinese Ubuthu

When the Japanese defeated China over 5000 years ago. The Chinese did not become Japanese. The Japanese invaders became Chinese over time. Why, because the Chinese had one language, one Ubuthu spirit, that could not be broken down, influenced or diluted. The principal of divide and rule could not work in China. That is the reason why we still have one China, undivided China, and undiluted China, with one Chinese language. They refused to be divided.

The Indian Ubuthu

When Mehta Ma Gandhi defeated the British in India, he did not have a single gun in his possession. He preached the spirit of Indian Ubuthu in Hindi to over 200 million people in India. They all moved in unison with the spirit of Indian Ubuthu and the British could not stand it. That is how India became independent from British rule. That is how powerful the Ubuthu concept is.

The trade unions all over the world where born from the same Ubuthu concept, but in different languages and different countries.

The spirit of Ubuthu in the African skim of things is dead. It died many years ago. It has been replaced by bribery, nepotism, tribalism, favoritism, nationalism and other isms. Nationalism is a kind of sophisticated tribalism designed to benefit a few people at the top of the pyramid.

South Africa, the largest economy on the African continent is in danger of being overtaken by Nigeria and Kenya in all categories of development, from human capital to infrastructure, from manufacturing to trade and industry. South Africa is suffering from a combination of illnesses namely; bribery, nepotism, tribalism, corruption and others. It’s a malady that must be cured. Once corruption gets into the bone -marrow, no known medicine in the world can cure it.  Denying that corruption does not exist is being bone-head.  Our institutions of higher learning have been turned into institutions of higher corruption.  How did we get here?  Answer. We have ignored ethics and Ubuthu concept which is supposed to hold the very fabric of our being. We have become vessels without ethics. We have become lawless citizens in a civilized society. We have become cannibals to our own daughters. We have become a trigger happy nation, regardless of who we shoot at. We have become a nation of animals where every female is a wife and every male is a husband, regardless of whether he / she is a  brother /sister, father/mother, granny or anything with a dress.  How did the Afrikaners defeat corruption and bribery during their hay days? Maybe we need to learn a few lessons from Afrikaners on bribery and corruption. I have since stopped attending gender related conferences outside South Africa. A dozen times, I have been asked the same question. Oh you are from South Africa? You are the guys who rape your own daughters?  It sounds a bit myopic, but that is the truth. Shame on us.

Dr John is an international consultant, author of 39 books, a professor of strategic management and a student of corporate governance and corruption.