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UBUNTU Philosophy. What does the unity mean in South Africa?

UBUNTU - African philosophy of unity - Empowerment Coaching Krakow

Let's explore the African philosophy of unity called Ubuntu. It may seem naive or incomprehensible. But after a moment's reflection, you can see its depth reaching the heart of human nature. And perhaps this is the way of thinking we most need right now. It would help all of us to have a positive influence on the future of our children. And it would help not to destroy the resources of Mother Earth, which hosts us.


Ubuntu - African philosophy of unity

The anthropologist offered some fun to children from one of the African tribes.

He placed the basket full of fruit next to one of the trees and told the children that whoever reached the basket first would be rewarded with all the sweet fruit. When he said they could start running, they held hands and ran together, then sat down and ate the fruit together.

When the anthropologist asked why they ran this way, and not in such a way that one of them got the whole basket, one of the children replied:

- UBUNTU. How can one of us be happy when the others are sad?

Ubuntu - what does it mean?

UBUNTU in Xhosa culture means: "I am because we are" or "I am who I am because of who we all are".

The word "ubuntu" is just part of the Zulu phrase "Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu". This literally means that a person is a person through other people.

The main principle of the Ubuntu philosophy is the belief in the universal bond that connects all humanity and all people with each other around the world. This worldview is characteristic of all peoples and communities living close to and in harmony with nature. This philosophy also includes a deep belief in the equality of all people and that everyone deserves equal treatment.

This is the essence of humanity, which could also be translated as follows: "A person becomes a human being thanks to or through other people" - "motho ke motho ka batho babang".

Many people considered Nelson Mandela to be the "embodiment" or "personification" of the philosophy of Ubuntu. Here's how he explained what this concept means to him:

A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn't have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food and attend him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not address themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?

For more of his thoughts, please see the below video:

Ubuntu - Africa as the source of humanism

The other proponent of the concept of Ubuntu is Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In his book No Future Without Forgiveness, he describes a role model of this mindset as "open and available to others, affirming of others ..., as someone who has a proper self-assurance."

South African post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Tutu, was the best example of indigenous political philosophy that might be called African humanism. This was the foundation of the transition to majority rule in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa.

Interestingly enough, the name of this philosophy differs by country, such as in Angola (kimuntu), Botswana (setho), Cameroon (bato), Republic of the Congo (bantu languages), Kenya (utu/munto/mondo), Malawi (umunthu), Mozambique (vumuntu), Namibia (omundu), Tanzania (utu/obuntu/bumuntu), Uganda (obuntu), Zambia (umunthu/ubuntu), Northern Nigeria (mutum) and Zimbabwe (Ubuntu, unhu or hunhu). Nevertheless, in all cases, we find the same philosophical belief behind this term: "the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity".

This 9-minute film by the BBC also beautifully tells what we can learn from the Ubuntu philosophy:

According to Ubuntu, we are all equal and depend on each other. Every one of us is responsible for our surroundings, for the environment in which we live, and especially for weaker individuals who need help. 'I' is less important than 'We'. Everyone first contributes to and for the good of the world we all live in.


Ubuntu is also the name of the solution the Linux operating system uses to distribute its software. Linux operating systems are open source, meaning anybody can use them for free. It's a concept of sharing that may be uncommon in the competitive world of computer software but is inspired by the traditional African Ubuntu philosophy.

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