Skip to main content

ubuntu: a bittersweet homecoming

Posted by on Monday, December 16, 2013 in Diversity, Family, General Information, International Student, Student Life, Winter Break.

It rolls perfectly off the tongue, “ubuntu.” As a child, I would say it to myself, letting the u’s carry the syllables through and sound the word out. The meanings are numerous. But, essentially, ubuntu is the spirit in African communities. Some call it collectivism; still, its meaning is deeper than that. When Nelson Mandela was fighting against the apartheid, his belief in ubuntu was that alone he could do little, but together voices were strong and change would come. This belief was embodied in political rallies and speeches, his fist clenched and raised high: each of us, a powerless finger, but, together, black or white, empowered and a strong force to bring about change.

I heard about Madiba’s death while tapping away on the Aljazeera website, minutes before my Anthropology of Healing class started. I was filled with a mixture of sadness and joy for his life, but also, a deep longing to be in South Africa. I grew up in Zimbabwe, ruled under the dictatorship of ZANU PF’s Robert Mugabe, a man who was pretty much the antithesis of Madiba. Instead of preaching equality, he spoke of oppression and violence against the “colonialists,” the white population. His rage resulted in a brutal civil war in the 70’s, another almost civil war in the early 2000’s, the appraisal of my grandfather’s farm, the almost appraisal of my farm, and the loss of my entire family’s Zimbabwean citizenships. When that happened, South Africa opened its arms to us and we were all able to obtain a South African nationalities. This openness and willingness to accept me and give me a country to call my own, regardless of my heritage or color, are fingerprints of Mandela’s legacy on my life

It feels right being here in South Africa and taking part in the mourning of this great man’s life. Everywhere I look, I see our Tata in a different light: the man whose face lit up around the children of his country, the man who wore the jersey of a team that optimized white domination to break boundaries, the man who had the craziest dance move (not moves :) ), the man who was had the spunkiest sense of humor. The images are endless. Everyone I talk to and every newspaper I read has a different story about him. Remembering him fills my country with a deep joy–the kind that bubbles up from deep down and puts a silly, but solemn smile on your face. I had thought to myself, on my 20 hour plane ride from Washington to Jo’burg: how can we recover from such a loss? The man was a giant. But, coming back has given me a different perspective. I see the people of our country rising up to the occasion, people with the determination to keep up his legacy, his love, and his forgiveness. His mission is sewn into the fabric of our nation, a timeless weave that I pray will never come undone. It is beautiful…it is ubuntu.

Tags: ,