Searching for Ubuntu

Tag: Africa

A Letter From Africa

by Michael Mpofu

Dear Ryan

I hope you’re doing we’ll and enjoying shaping the young minds of Brooklyn.

It’s been a while since you last set foot in Cape Town and I thought I’d send you a little note from Africa.

I’ve had some time to reflect on some very sad events in the last few weeks in the political and socio-economic worlds that affect those in the great continent. And I must say, I haven’t been inspired – the expression would be more along the lines of “distraught”.

It seems like such a hyperbole, an exaggeration, but when you really think about it, some of the stuff that is tolerated here, is unbelievable, shocking, almost unheard of in your part of the world. This is not to discount the challenges people on your side of the sea face, but I’m simply saying, the reaction to the atrocities experienced by our people down here would stir riots or some form of protest action in your world.

Because I have the privilege of working where I work, at the centre of where key (political) decisions are sometimes taken in the South African context, it has given me perspective. Having spent some time listening and watching laws being made that ultimately shape the future of almost 52 million people, I recently had a “eureka” moment:

The reason why Africa, in fact, the world, is what it is today – far from what our predecessors envisioned – is because presidential boardrooms and government offices, banks and educational institutions are filled with people who have good intentions.

That may sound like stating the obvious, but it is in fact true.

In years gone by we have listened and watched politicians, businessmen and philanthropists make inspirational speeches about how they would help change the world. And no doubt, some of them have. The trouble is that those of us who have been tasked with carrying the baton further have simply become people with good intentions.

When listening to people speak and debate, make resolutions or whatever it may be, there is a sense of hope in their rhetoric. What is mind-boggling is that when faced with the opportunity to truly make a difference, we tend to withdraw into our cocoons and do nothing.

Most African leaders have some of the most exciting and inspiring stories in their rise to power. It’s the stuff that movies are made of, and that’s the trouble, it remains on television and cinema screens and never translates into reality. I’m not sure what possesses people, but it appears easier to have good intentions than actually doing something because maybe we can feel better about wanting to do the right thing when the going gets tough – so we can still enjoying the benefit of taking an exit. After all, we had the right motive we just couldn’t keep going.

You may be asking why I have felt the need to pen this half an hour before midnight in South Africa? Frustration. Frustration that those who are fighting the people in positions of power and have the intention to actually do something to uplift the plight of the people – are actually becoming the people they despise.

While they have good intentions, they are becoming the devil they despise. The trouble with Africa is not that we lack the people to do it; instead it’s that those that are willing to get their hands dirty end up with dirty hands, muddled in corruption and greed. But that’s okay, because they meant well.

Liberation movements in the fight against colonialism meant well, to free a people from oppression and institute freedom for all! But given the opportunity to outwork that freedom, they decided to hold on to the intention, the idea of the dream, make the exit and take solace in their good intention.

It frustrates me.

And that’s why Africa will remain the way she is – dark, disease ridden, poverty stricken and conflict dominated. Because of men and women who meant well, but found it easier to act otherwise.

Perhaps our search for that thing that brings us together must begin by introspection. What and how do I want to change the world? Great intention – let me roll up my sleeves.

Until the next one Ryan,

All the best with shaping young minds.



Cradle of Humankind…

by Ryan Dalton

Dearest Warsan,

I hope this letter finds you much more than well, welling over even. We have almost made it through the cold and dreaded Winter. Almost, that is. Spring is pushing its way in, truly battling to stay, as it seems Winter is trying to prove its final point for the season; snow is in the forecast today.

But I can’t be bothered by Winter’s need for attention. No matter what it is trying, I am on a much needed hiatus: Spring Break. A neighbor kid is over playing mini-basketball in my living room, Miles Davis is playing in my speakers, and I have no pressing matters, or urgent work, or places to be right now but right here, doing absolutely nothing. Truly sublime.

What is happening in your world?

I couldn’t help but notice, and be moved by, your tweet the other day.




That type of extended humanity is like a refreshing wave, washing clean the individualistic indoctrination society has attempted to stain our soul with, reminding us that we are, in fact, connected, that we are a part of something bigger than our all-too-often self-serving selves. So simple yet beautiful. Thank you for that reminder.

I suppose some of humanity’s avoidance of sharing with one another comes out of self-preservation and protection, wanting to be shielded and guarded from the pain, hurt, and abuse that can commonly come with human interaction; the pain, hurt, and abuse that you so eloquently oftentimes write about and seem to understand so deeply. Besides us trying to avoid pain, I think greed is probably another major perpetrator against our shared experience, our togetherness. But I don’t think that is how we were innately made to interact, to live, to be.

I think humans were created for communion, and the acknowledgement of the importance of one another, in our individual-yet-shared journey through life. I think Ubuntu, “I am what I am because of who we all are,” is imprinted in our DNA, though our modern cultures, for the most part, seem to be at war with this concept. Community was at the center of most original, indigenous cultures; cultures that were most pure, basic, and first; way  more socially developed than most cultures in existence today.

I find it extremely fascinating that the African philosophy of Ubuntu was founded in an area of Southern Africa that is also acknowledged as the Cradle of Humankind. Meaning, the idea of Ubuntu was developed at the heart of the geographical location of the very first humans. Stunningly magnificent. Surely this is no coincidence. And we still need that human connection so, so bad, though our modern societies have developed ways of hindering, and warping it. Why else would solitary confinement be one of the worst forms of punishment found in modern Western prisons?

At any rate.

If you wouldn’t mind, tell me about your experiences and encounters with Ubuntu. Your words always speak to a deep place in my soul. Please send my love and greetings to the lovely little sisters, and walk up to your mother and say something hilarious (of your choosing) on my behalf. Hope to hear from you soon.

Warmth and love from a wintery Spring day in Brooklyn,