Ubuntu – The spirit of Africa


‘Ubuntu is an ancient African word meaning ‘humanity to others’. It also means ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’.’ (http://www.ubuntu.com/about/about-ubuntu)

My mother grew up in a British African colony and I grew up in South Africa. Of course Ubuntu is not an expectation or the general rule, but in Africa life works a bit differently. It’s slower for one thing and there is a great sense of hospitality, generosity and community. The door is always open and the couch is always available. When cooking a meal for a guest, you always make too much food and then send half it home with the guest now laden with plastic containers full of bobotie and melktert. Ask a South African what Ubuntu is and they’ll smile. If they were not aware of the term before the Fifa World Cup, we all are now. But we knew the spirit of Ubuntu long before we knew it had a name.

Living in London, there is still this deep sense of Ubuntu in the Saffer expats. When someone moves here from overseas, there is sense of needing to help them settle into their new overwhelming life as others helped you in turn. You can bet a South African will always have a corner for you to crash if you are in need. This is Ubuntu.

What I found interesting about this can of cola sold in Waitrose was the fact that it was called ‘Ubuntu’. The irony is, they are selling something that is not a commodity but a way of life. So all this sense of being African and our deep sense of hospitable expectation is being sold in can. I think someone missed the mark with this one.

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