THE resurgence of violent attacks against our African brothers, sisters and children is morally and culturally unacceptable. Maybe it’s happening because we have forgotten who we are and the way our ancestors related to newcomers in their midst.
Perhaps even more than that, we have forgotten the principles of ubuntu — a pointer to the value of a human life in African culture. Ubuntu as a philosophy states that “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” (a human is human because of other humans). It describes the intrinsic value placed on human life, as it is this life that makes us able to identify ourselves as human.
The current design of SA’s state welfare system is culturally flawed as the interventions reinforce a sense of “victimhood” rather than providing structural support for communities to be in charge of their own economic development.
It creates an unsustainable dependency, which is detrimental to the moral fibre of the community. Traditionally, everyone contributed to community development and therefore their own development, according to their own ability.
We have always welcomed travellers into our communities where they have been introduced according to the culture. What is more, strangers were adopted into our communities and became members of the family where they settled.
They would take on the surname of a local family and from then on become members of equal standing in the community, contributing to its development.
My great-great-grandfather on my mother’s side is rumoured to be of Portuguese descent. He settled in what was then KwaZulu with the Shange family and became assimilated, as evidenced by him taking on the surname Shange. He took wives and had children all known as Shange.
Mine is not a unique tale — it is actually quite common. Although he did not change surnames, the case of John Dunn is also well known in KwaZulu-Natal.
Recently, I learnt that an enterprising member of the Moloi family has traced the very first person with the name Moloi to settle in southern Africa back to his roots in Ethiopia. Our culture is not against welcoming new people and integrating them.
New people who arrived in our villages in the past followed culturally accepted procedures, which allowed them to be fully integrated into the community. The new arrivals would be taken to the chief or head of the village when they arrived.
Their settlement would be a community affair and not a mystery. In some areas this still happens — new families can only settle after a chief has given permission and there has been a ceremony introducing the newcomers to the rest of the village.
Dismissing the significance and importance of cultural norms in establishing post-apartheid SA is coming back to haunt us. When the negotiations were conducted that led to the “new” dispensation, nothing of our culture and our cultural ways of doing things was taken into consideration because of the continued belief that African culture is backward and cannot teach us anything.
This is not a black/white race issue. Across the spectrum, we’ve all lost the rationale for the cultural way of doing things and assumed that western models of being will be applicable to us.
GENERATIONS of colonisation and our ignoring of existing cultural norms post-independence have slowly led to us Africans having a limited understanding of our culture and practices that build social cohesion and prosperity.
We have bought into the belief that African culture is just the animal skins and rituals that we perform and have neglected to evaluate our true cultural norms and practices, which supported community development for centuries. We’ve accepted the history that begins with the advent of colonisation as if African society and societal norms began only then.
The principles that sustained our communities are crying out for their revival in order to bring about a truly united and prosperous country where there is room for everyone who needs it.
Legal or illegal, it is problematic that we persist in referring to fellow Africans as “foreigners”. It is problematic that we condemn the attacks and in the same breath add a qualifier by saying “but…”.
It is problematic that our government condemns the attacks but adds statements about illegal immigrants in our midst.
Murdering anyone must be strongly condemned. Period.
Calls for “foreign” businesses to be registered somewhere far away from our communities will not work. Have any incidences been reported in areas under tribal authority? If not, why is that? In these areas, the community members know one another and any new people who move there.
The process of “registration” is carried out in the traditional way — by the community according to norms they agreed to. The process is a public one and no lists are formulated in secret. It is done in the community by the community, not by councillors and administrators who do not understand the community dynamics.
My family recently acquired land in Kwa-Swayimane outside Pietermaritzburg. Before the transaction was finalised, we had to have a referral letter from someone attesting to our character. After the chief accepted this letter, the headman of the chief had to introduce us to the community around us at a formal ceremony.
It is only after these processes had been completed that we could proceed and assume ownership of the land we had bought. We did not parachute in from out of town nor were we assigned land in a secret deal between ourselves and the seller.
Contrast this with the allocation of RDP houses, which is done out of sight of the community. How many times have we heard of community protests because houses are allocated to “outsiders”?
Transparency is vital if one is to deal with our communities. Give them their dignity back by allowing them to be contributors to their own development — including identifying what they need and opportunities to participate in realising that vision.
It is an understatement to say we have a social-cohesion problem. We have not attempted to clearly understand the cultural norms and practices that have sustained us from time immemorial.
We have all become a little lazy and complacent by accepting definitions of our African history and culture that are based on surface observations and easy conclusions.
African culture is complex. It is vibrant. It is innovative and integrative at its core. That is who we are.
• Gcabashe is a traditional healer.
Article source: http://www.bdlive.co.za/opinion/2015/04/17/we-need-to-revive-the-principles-of-ubuntu