Finding Ubuntu in a Pandemic

Changing our attitude and philosophy towards solving society’s problems

Andy Evans
9 min readOct 24, 2020

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” — Desmond Tutu

When we triumph over this pandemic, let’s take our renewed spirit of togetherness and fresh energy to manifest that magic feeling: that feeling of omnipotence, that together we are capable of so much and all things are possible. Similar to the early joys of freedom post-apartheid, where we had the whole world at our feet, a great spirit and the hope for the beautiful dream this country longs to be. That amazing feeling of unity is us at our best. Let’s work towards the comprehensive liberation of all our people from the horrors of a pandemic, but also the climate crisis and the chains of poverty and inequality.

Ubuntu is the Zulu word for a Nguni Bantu philosophy often translated as “I am because we are” or “humanity towards others”. It is commonly used in a more philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.” It describes a collective society, where the paramount principle is the connection and bond to others, and the moral base is sharing what you have and helping others. In this society, we recognise our wellbeing is deeply tied to the wellbeing of others, and the whole comes before the individual.

Fighting this disease involves solidarity and collaboration amongst all to socially distance and slow the spread. Let’s use this to make a permanent change in our attitudes and philosophy of our society to be more inclusive of our neighbours. Let’s push on and take responsibility for how we influence and develop a happier, better community. We help others not only because it’s the right way to behave, but we recognise that respect and humanity shown towards others is mutually beneficial. We share the experience of life with all those around us — they make us who we are. This shared bond is Ubuntu — I am incomplete without you; my happiness is incomplete without yours. Would the human life experience not be enhanced by benevolence, altruism and deep care for others?

“Our society needs to re-establish a culture of caring.” — Nelson Mandela

Our interconnectedness is not limited to South Africa’s borders but extends to the world alike. COVID-19 transcends borders, social status and is mightily successful — this indifference to ‘who’ is nature’s way of thriving. Maybe we could follow nature’s lead and transcend the boundaries we have created in society and across the world to all thrive together.

The people are the lifeblood of our country, the salt of the earth that makes our nation so spectacular, colourful and wonderful. All South Africans are in this struggle together — a nation united in its diversity. Ubuntu is a national treasure that we all should celebrate and embrace. So much can be gained through simple acts of sharing, kindness and compassion.

Our Economy

Once the medical crisis subsides, we must be prepared to face a more significant challenge of building our new world. Our economy is in immense trouble and nearing a breaking point. Joblessness is worse than ever — it already was before COVID-19. Alas, we will recover but how we do this will be telling of the future success of South Africa and the world. Let’s rebuild a new, modern South Africa — not only technologically advanced and innovative but modern and innovative in thought and principle.

What would an economy or business look like built on the principles of Ubuntu? Core to Ubuntu is sharing. Individuals gaining immense wealth for themselves should not be what drives and motivates us. We should be driven by how we change the world for the better. It should be that your success is a product of the change you have made in the world.

We’re all taking a hit. Our duty in this pandemic and beyond is to take on a load for the greater good. Let’s be compassionate and find a balance between helping our employees as much as possible whilst keeping the business alive. When you can, hire/rehire as many people as possible. Would one extra cleaner at your office make much difference to your bottom-line? Does that person live in a township and are they struggling to feed a family? For everyone we bring out of poverty, we create a consumer who in turn boosts the economy around them.

In essence, we need to crowdfund our economy. Crowdfunding is whereby a business raises funding from a large number of people, sometimes thousands, all contributing a little amount. Buy local products and support local small shops/services. Before we order everything online, let’s see who we can help out in the community around us. If there is no local alternative, then maybe there lies the gap to create a local business or create a few jobs? The stronger the community is when we come out of this, the better prepared we will be for the future, and the more likely we will be to thrive as a nation united. Community investment is an investment in others and self alike. Let’s rise together as one.

“The work is not for oneself. Kill the spirit of ‘self’ and do not live above your people, but with them. If you rise above them, take somebody with you.” — Charlotte Maxeke

Our Poverty & Inequality

South Africa is the most unequal country in the world. A place of haves and have-nots. I fear this pandemic is going to be a massive setback for the eradication of poverty and inequality, as well as globalisation. Sadly, we are already seeing more nationalist and protectionist policies across the world and the consolidation of power with the few.

Solving inequality and poverty is not a zero-sum game, where if someone gains, others have to lose. Neither is poverty, where for one to be rich others must suffer. Rich people and prosperity for all are not mutually exclusive. The sickening fact is right now we probably have the resources and know-how to solve hunger and poverty, but we choose not to do so. We have the resources — financially, economically and humanely as a species.

It’s a proven fact, bringing everybody out of poverty is how we will stop the world’s population growth. Quite simply, people above the poverty line tend to have fewer children averaging around two children per couple. If population growth continues unabated, the demand for resources will overwhelm the planet, and global warming will continue to spiral. We will seal our doom and face a mass-extinction event far outweighing COVID-19. However, we are capable of putting this all on hold. Ubuntu starts with assisting the members of society who are most in need, and we should be driving wealth into the poorer parts of our economy.

We need to find a balance between progress and humanity. Allowing some to have so much and others so little is not the world we want. Sadly, if we fail to get this right, if we fail to help the needy people on this planet, we all lose. The irony is the rich (countries and people) need to give to the poor to save themselves. Can the ‘rich’ have the vision to recognise their role in securing their own future; can they restrain their selfish, greedy urges and close the equality gap for the greater good of all? The sharing of wealth is the best long-term investment we can make, but it involves everyone. Let’s teach people around the world a sophisticated new collective way of solving our problems.

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life” — Nelson Mandela

Our Environment

Earth has a disease that humans have created called Climate Change. We have diagnosed it; the symptoms are a global warming fever and decreasing air quality. We are choking the planet’s lungs and starving it of clean air needed for life by burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests. We have developed many vaccines and innovative treatments, but roll-out has been far too slow. We possibly even know the cure? We are past the ‘Wuhan phase’ but still have time to get ahead of it before it becomes a pandemic. We need to start fixing the problem now before it gets out of control. No ventilator will be there to save us.

Our relentless quest for economic progress at all costs is fatally flawed. Is the world not fighting back? We have treated the world with utter disrespect, favouring our progress, greed and gluttony over what’s best for all. We have risked our very existence on this planet. Ubuntu is about shared humanity and responsibility; climate change is a human problem for which we are all responsible. This pandemic shows us, when our way of life is threatened, we can be unselfish and do the right thing for all.

“We are at the beginning of a mass extinction event, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!” — Greta Thunberg

Our New World

Let’s embrace change and move forward, leading the world into a new enlightenment. The next level of human consciousness will be when people across the globe can look across borders and social structures realising their fates and futures are inextricably linked. An Ubuntu minded world where we live as one people; where wealth, decisions and intentions are for the benefit of all and not a few. Let’s ignore the sceptics, educate our people and evolve a more sophisticated humanity; a humanity that allows us to view others with more empathy, compassion and solidarity. Ubuntu is having a country where we share the experience of life with all those around us. A country allowing everyone the best opportunity to live a life of dignity and the chance to chase their dreams.

We need to pause and reflect on the ideals we are striving to achieve. Let’s alter or upgrade these for the changing times and in line with who we are as a nation. Use this ‘lockdown’ time to dig a little; to find out who you are and who we are as a nation; what we are grateful for and what we stand for; why and where you want us to go. Then, make a stand, pull along those beside you and make a difference in the world around you. If we all pull together, the best in us will shine through, and we will find ourselves capable of dealing with the challenges around us. Let’s build the country of our dreams — we have a chance to be part of something truly incredible that will leave our heads and our hearts full.

Let’s leave this tragedy by uplifting the down-trodden on the notion that we are one and only as strong as our weakest link. This season is about life triumphing over suffering and death. Let’s not be the generation defined by the tragedy of pandemic, rather the generation who took the opportunity presented by a health crisis to reassess and upgrade. Let’s shape a new perspective, a new way of life and change the world for the better. Humbled through its challenges, this generation could be the envy of the ages.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.” — Nelson Mandela

Our African dream — Mzansi

I am a hopeful optimist. My dream is that you might share in this hope and optimism. Amongst this pandemic experience, let’s excite a positive feeling about the goodness in this country and help create a counterbalance to the relentless drone of negativity. Let’s find a sense of national pride that inspires us to go make a difference in our own way. Go out into the world with kindness and compassion; spread some positivity and optimism; share some love and share some hope; be courageous and never give up! Let’s give back to the country that has given us so much and always remember you can make a difference — you do make a difference! So please, take on the collective responsibility and let’s play our parts well in stopping this pandemic. When it is all over, let’s rebuild our African dream together using the spirit of Ubuntu as our guide.