Welcome to Cape Town, the Mother City, my home. Among the most beautiful cities on earth, said to have a wider gap in living standards between rich and poor than any other city.
Thank you for inviting a member of the old age society to address you tonight, and for your assistance in keeping this restless octogenarian occupied – and out of trouble – in his retirement.
I have been asked to reflect on the struggle against apartheid, and morality and ethics in business. Two very diverse topics, yet the more you consider them the closer they seem to grow together. Because the struggle we waged in South Africa was all about human rights, fairness, morality and ethics. Our extraordinary first President Nelson Mandela epitomized morality and ethics. Our Constitution is founded on a set of moral and ethical principles.
When we marched in our tens of thousands in this city – black, white, Christian, Muslim, Jew, gay, straight, young and old TOGETHER – we demonstrated that the real morality of God infinitely outweighed the immorality of the so-called Christian Nationalist State, and the Berlin Wall fell. What united us was not support for any particular political party; it was the immorality of the system, the ungodliness.
When Nelson Mandela walked out of prison it was not a victory for any political party; it was a victory for all South Africans, and all Africans, because the last vestige of colonialism on our continent had shed its white cloak.
Yes. Africa has finally fully emerged from centuries of division and greed. But can we avoid repeating the mistakes of the past? Are we willing to share our resources and avoid famine and blight? Can we shed Africa’s perennial underdog status and build a brighter future for all our people?
Creating harmony in our human family is our responsibility today. Yours and mine. The good news is that for the time being at least God is on our side, because God is notoriously biased in favour of the underdog.
A few years before they invented motor cars and I was born, the prophet Isaiah said: “If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. Those from among you shall build the old waste places; You shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, the Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.”
I have often spoken about how wounded all South Africans are by our history. We are scarred, all of us.
I have told this story before but it bears repeating. In 1972 I was working for the World Council of Churches based in London. I had area responsibility for Sub-Saharan Africa. I went to Nigeria for the first time then and was due to visit a theological seminary in the north of the city of Jos. I boarded a domestic flight and lo and behold both pilots in the cockpit were dark. Wow! I grew inches in self-esteem. We had a smooth take off and my pride swelled some more. Then we hit the mother and father of turbulence. I will never forget to my dying day that my first thought unbelievable but true was “Hey there’s no white man in the cockpit; Yo! Will these blacks land us safely?” Can you believe it? But that was the erosion of my self-esteem. This is what has happened to all our people.
Thus we must not be surprised at the staggering statistics of crime, murder and rape. Of brutal ethnic conflict and gratuitous violence on our continent… When you suffer from self-hate you project it to others who look like you.
The system that we have emerged from has left us riddled with superiority and inferiority complexes, and instead of narrowing the gap between rich and poor we have widened it.
Across Africa we are racing to exploit mineral, gas and oil resources, often at great cost to local people and their – our – environment. Who benefits? The chosen few? Those with political connections? Why do we continuously read in our newspapers of corruption in Africa: Corrupt politicians, corrupt civil servants, corrupt businessmen?
Are we not made for each other? Are we not ultimately members of one family, the human family, and were we not made for goodness?
Ubuntu is a word that describes our interconnectedness, and our responsibilities to each other that flow from these connections. I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am. Ubuntu speaks to the principle of the human family, or ‘self-in-community’. Thus we say, umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu – it is through others that one attains selfhood.
Ubunutu is an African expression of what is known as the Golden Rule of Reciprocity: Love your neighbour as yourself.
Confucius wrote about a discussion between Zi Gong and the Master: ”Zi Gong asked, saying, ‘Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life?’ The Master said, ‘Is not RECIPROCITY such a word?’”
Martin Luther King said: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
And Nelson Mandela said: “We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity — a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”
I am because of you. My pride and self-respect are bound up in yours. We are brothers and sisters of one family. Our wellbeing is contingent on the wellbeing of our family.
And thus we say: A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole
Let us work together to restore hope and dignity on our continent. Let us work together to stop the juggernaut of consumptiveness from destroying us. Let us join hands and demand change… Demand that governments invest in environmentally sustainable technologies; demand that industry is held accountable for its negative environmental impacts; demand that, for once, we put planet and people before profit.
God bless you.