Contradiction of the Philosophy of Ubuntu – Finding the Fault line

The concept of Ubuntu dictates that umuntu ngumutu ngabantu. Motho ke motho ka batho. This concept subscribes to the processualism of ubuntu. In the African ontological perspective our humanity is dependent on others definition of personhood.

In an African communitarian society, the community has the final say to what constitutes a human trait of a pleasant interaction with the other. In that instance, a person is expected to work himself or her self to attain the status of personhood and in the process of attaining that status a person  in that journey of finding oneself, they might fail in attaining that status.

More importantly, the very concept of personhood in Ubuntu philosophy  and metaphysical reality is predicated on the principle of instrumentalization which propounds that a person has to do x, y and z order to be accepted in the family of humaneness and consequently ancestralism.

However, what this suggests is that the only bases a person can be accepted into an ancestral family is the one having been conferred as such by the community. Therefore, this explains why when a person at the time of his death, without having attained that status is not given a full funeral programme and not regarded as a complete person as opposed to one who has attained that status.

More precisely why the former is being given a long funeral service and the latter given more a simple funeral and at the time of departure from the physical earth cannot be accepted in the human family of ancestors. In nutshell, cannot be regarded as an ancestor. This therefore has been a very dominant belief of African ontology since the presocratic thinkers.

The fault line is that this justifies the reasons why children in African ontology are not regarded and cannot be accepted either as ancestors. And hence justification of child abuse has become so rampant and almost acceptable in African culture.  And again why woman abuse has been so rampant in the African traditional society. Women and children were in the past treated as objects rather than subjects.

Conversely, a person’s personhood needs not to be accepted on the basis of instrumentalization, but squarely on intrinsic value. Our humanity is dependent on human descent. That is the virtue of being born.
Unfortunately this understanding has found a way into modern society and current body politics. 

In South Africa today the concept applies to political demagogues with political credentials. For example, a political leader with a long list of political credentials stemming from exile and participation in underground structures of the ruling movement.
Celebrations of fallen political heroes who are and must be celebrated year after year for their contribution in the struggle for the emancipation of the oppressed. More over, such becomes immortalized with hope keeping them alive.

On the other hand, society in a modern society conceptualizes a person as one who has attained material wealth. I guess some middle-class person living in the suburbs and driving a flashy car. At the end the fault line an African metaphysical understanding of reality is that the personhood of an individual does not relay with how our people define us, but by virtue of being. That actually settles it.

Moatlhodi Lucky Ledwaba
Centre for Elections, Gender and a Conflict in Africa

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