UBUNTU IS A word that makes me cringe. You might also know it as obuntu or unhu. It comes from the root word ntu, from Bantu languages in Africa. Ntu meaning human, bantu meaning people, and ubuntu meaning humanity. Since it became popular in the 1950s, this word has been placed at the heart of African philosophy, treated like a mysterious element from which an alien civilisation draws its power. Ubuntu has become synonymous with pan-Africanism, community, and other words that were corrupted in the mouths of dictators.
In South Africa, it is ubuntu and it was a philosophy used during reconciliation after apartheid and thrown back in South Africa’s face when xenophobic attacks were directed at citizens of the countries that stood with them in unity during apartheid. In Zimbabwe, it is unhu and it is a philosophy of humanity in a country where the president believes gay people are lower than pigs and dogs. In Uganda it is obuntu and it is the same philosophy that defends the opening of our borders to refugees in a country that ranks with Nigeria and Zimbabwe among the most punitive countries for LGBTQ people.
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