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The meaning of Ubuntu in African philosophy

Categories: AfricaPhilosophy

In a class there is a learner with low interpersonal skills. The learner is withdrawn and doesn’t seem to be integrating with other learners in class activities. The key point as a teacher is how to encourage the learner to be more self-confident in and out of a classroom environment. The issue for the learner may be behavioural, a home issue or a negative attitude, causing the inability for the learner to work with peers in the classroom. The method of counselling would be applied through African philosophy.

The focus placed on the learner by giving him/her a deeper understanding of themselves and to build a sense of community in the classroom. Hopefully this may establish an identity and give the learner the ability to approach life in a holistic manner. The teaching style applied may be contributing to the non-involvement of the learner. An indication would be made to the learner to understand that they cannot exist alone.

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Thus building a better out-look for the learner through the teachings of African philosophy embodied in the word Ubuntu, which means humanity.

African philosophy is focused on a joint well-being of that community. The individual can be Umuntu because of that community. “No man is an island”. An individual is who they are because of past generations and people around them in that community. African philosophy is about being able to build communities and give people a sense of identity and a sense of belonging. In many ways it encourages individuals within that structure to be humble and also allows one to have a profounder acceptance of ourselves.

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African Philosophy enables one to enquire about the importance of tradition and the values they equip an individual with. The concept Ubuntu is a focal point in African philosophy, which cannot just be reduced to tradition practices. African philosophy is a technique to adjust one’s life, which is focused on a western way of existence. It enables that individual to simplify the human experience. African philosophy is embodied by religious and moral beliefs of the African people as a continent. By any means this concept shouldn’t be watered down to a simple form. It embodies the views on life and methods or ability to question its own traditions.

This philosophy gives us insight on what it is that makes us human beings. Ethno-philosophy contains communal customs, which enables Africans to be Africans. (poems, taboos and religions). In my mind this is what gives specific cultures their identity and a sense of pride. The questions of who I am and where do I come from, easy to answers. The oral tradition of izithakazelo gives a lot of African people identity and family history. I am who I am because of my community. Henceforth “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”

Sage philosophy is gear for indigenous thinkers, who didn’t have the benefit of modern education although they are thought to be critical thinkers. They are able to use their judgement based on an inborn insight and understanding of their environment. These are the people who question the authority of those in power in specific communities. It allows decision and ideas to be thought out and critical looked at to see what will benefit the community. As a country it is vital we develop critical thinking at all levels of education and society. Allowing us a country to questions ideas, that makes states function. These people specifically in South Africa are thought to be problem causes as they have views which differ from those in authority and communities. The critical thinkers represent those who cannot voice their views because of fear or any other oppression methods. The capacity to scrutinize your surrounding and have the understanding certain components will not benefit the great community. We continue using methods of western civilization and see the effects they have at higher levels of society and expect them as the norm. If we live in Africa we need to focus upon things that set us apart. African philosophy should be introduced at schools. This would help learners acquire critical thinking skills and give them a sense of community.

The principles of African philosophy are also adapted by leaders who have been educated in western philosophy such as empiricism, existentialism and existentialism. Thus as unique African philosophy maybe or can be connected to elements of western teachings. Critical thinking in essences is investigating consistent and suitable understanding of the world. The saying that says information is power, although that information has to be insightful and instil skilful thinking that helps an individual to understand what to believe or how to react. An individual that think critical is able to inquire by asking the correct questions and is able to logically reason through information. They are then able to reach unfailing and dependable answer about the world and environment. Critical thinkers are able to look for issues that have a great imbalance, ask questions and present answers that may challenge the old ways and systems in place. In general most people are geared to be led and therefore don’t challenge authority figures in their societies. One downfall is those individuals aren’t able to think for themselves and tend to drift with the stream and rely upon those in power. To be a critical thinker gives you the ability to be an individual in society who contributes and has an understanding of what makes the society function.

The advantages instilling into individuals is a sense of community and how one should be governed and led. At the core of this philosophy is Ubuntu that focuses on caring, sharing and forgiveness. Humans exist and grow by developing relationships with others. “I am because you are” Things western may not be suited for all Africans or Africa. The sad case is most Africans have adapted the western life style and the sense of Ubuntu has lost meaning especially with the youth. The disadvantage of the African philosophy is that it doesn’t challenge power structures and is unable to accept women and men as equals. It doesn’t encourage critical thinking and ignores the needs of the individual and accepts cruel superstitious practices. African society tends to have strong beliefs in the natural and supernatural and doesn’t differentiate between the two. (e.g. female circumcision and witch hunts)

Higgs, P & Smith, J. 2013 reprint. Rethinking our world. Cape Town: Juta. W. Lawrence Neuman. 1997,1994,1991. Social research methods. 160 Gould street, Needham Heights, Ma 02194. Allyn & Bacon.

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The meaning of Ubuntu in African philosophy. (2016, Mar 09). Retrieved from

The meaning of Ubuntu in African philosophy

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