OPINION PIECE: Embracing Ubuntu on Heritage Month

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OPINION PIECE: Embracing Ubuntu on Heritage Month

OPINION PIECE: Embracing Ubuntu on Heritage Month

September, the annual celebration of South African Heritage Month is almost towards an end. The drafting of this ‘expert opinion’ (today September 24), which was accidentally requested from me by a colleague some weeks ago, coincides exactly with the celebration of Heritage Day, an important cog of heritage month. Most reading this opinion will recall this day was formerly known as King Shaka Day, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal. One may not be privy to why the erstwhile leadership of our beautiful country chose to shun the previous tag and opt for the current name. It probably could have been to address the ethnicity some sectors of the populace had attached to the tag. Some argued that the celebration only had a Zulu appeal and less regard for the other sectors of South  Africa’s ethnically diverse population. Be as it may, the Zulu nation still deems it fit to commemorate King Shaka on Heritage day. Throngs of amaZulu have been seen making their way to KwaDukuza, the traditional site of King Shaka’s homestead, which then forms part of their heritage. 

The multi-ethnicity of South Africa makes Heritage Day’s celebration more vast and complicated, often making it difficult for Heritage Day organizers to decide on whose heritage to highlight in each celebration. Most though, have often opted for a combined colourful multiplicity of a celebration of heritage. It seems as an institution we have let the celebration of Heritage Day slip. Calendar planners in the institution may want to do much better regarding the celebration of this day and other celebrated days, in the future. The institutional silence on celebrated days and holidays is deafening. 

Heritage entails various aspects of inherited traditions, cultures, identities, and objects that are valued throughout generations. These are practised, passed, and inherited from past generations to the next through practice and meticulous preservation. When speaking of preservation, it is always important for individuals, families, communities, institutions, nations, and the world over to always bear in mind there are those aspects of our life that need to be preserved and protected, lest humanity loses direction and perish.  Humanity should create legacies.

If legacies are part of the heritage, then academic institutions like ourselves should always actively and consciously strive to create a legacy and thus heritage for posterity. Institutions should actively focus on taking and implementing decisions that are meant to make future generations proud of inheriting knowledge, publications, buildings, paintings, the environment, and all innovations created by the current academic generations meant to make life more meaningful, exciting, worthy and less stressful for the future generations. One such way could be done is by embracing, revisiting, and implementing the proudly South African Ubuntu Heritage. Ubuntu, (botho, vunhu) entails compassion, fellowship, and virtue. 

The practice of ubuntu would start with the way everyone carries themselves around spaces where they operate. Be it in their offices, boardrooms, lecture halls, classrooms, walkways, streets, arcades, and passages. The institution’s community would want to greet, welcome, lecture, educate, support, serve and help each other as if their lives depended on it. The senior managers would treat even the most junior with the utmost respect, with academics firmly pushing all students through academic rigour, but with respect as if they were their own. Colleagues would strive to treat each other as blood brothers and sisters. Support staff would provide support services with pride as if there was nothing else to support. Ubuntu would drum in everyone’s mind that what brings everyone together in the institution is to serve rather than be served. Ubuntu would make us always strive to do better and be the best influence we can be. Speaking of ubuntu, one is tempted to tap on to the spirit of UBUNTU strikingly and fittingly echoed in the prayer by a Catholic  saint, namely, the ‘Prayer of St Francis of Assisi’: which I quote herein:

Lord make me an instrument of thy peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is error, truth;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy…

Ubuntu lives on, ubuntu buyaphila, botho bo tswela pele, vunhu byi ya emahlweni!

  • By Dr Sibusiso L. Ntuli

Senior Lecturer in the Department of African Languages

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