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The Spirit of Ubuntu: Africa's Response to Covid-19

by: Ndjadila DNJ

The discovery of the new Covid-19 virus brought the entire world to an eerie halt, as every country made efforts to not succumb to it. In an effort to prevent the virus from evolving, the World Health Organisation (WHO); introduced universal lockdown, quarantine measures and social distancing of about 2 metres. Just like other countries around the world, each country in Africa also made efforts in minimising the spread of the virus. However, one thing that stands out the most within Africa; is the sudden growth of the spirit of Ubuntu even in the midst of a global pandemic. The spirit of Ubuntu has spread like a bush-fire not only amongst African leaders, but individuals across the continent.

'I am because you are, you are because I am'

‘Ubuntu’, is a word originating from the Ndebele, Zulu and Xhosa languages of Southern Africa. The term simply translates into English as, ‘I am because you are, you are because I am,’ a powerful statement preaching virtues of love, compassion and humility towards others. Followers of Ubuntu believe in not turning a blind eye to someone in need, but rather giving a hand to those who may need it especially during times of despair. The spirit of Ubuntu has always been present in oral literature, but written records appeared in the 19th Century. Even prominent African leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere and Kenneth Kaunda are well known for their advocacies in favour of Ubuntu.

In a world where social distancing is the new norm, Ubuntu has been the centre of response to Covid-19 across the continent. About 33% of governments offered cash reliefs to more than 175 million people at the start of the pandemic- to assist individuals struggling financially in the midst of the virus. Some countries even went the extra mile to give basic food donations and vitamin C supplements in rural areas. A few African countries like South Africa, Namibia and Botswana immediately created a ‘special coronavirus budget’, where businesses affected by the pandemic were given financial support and employees were given wage subsidies. It is truly the duty of each nation to protect its citizens, however most of these efforts were also made with the spirit of Ubuntu in mind. Governments were concerned more than ever before to make sure that people’s basic needs were met during the state of emergency.

'As we continue our fight against this virus, may the spirit of Ubuntu live in each and every one of us around the world.'

Apart from efforts from the government, ordinary citizens also played a major role in spreading the spirit of Ubuntu. A lot of religious communities would hold remote vigils at home to pray for those fighting for their lives in hospitals, while giving aid and emotional support to the affected families. Some other members of society would also give hefty donations to hospitals and clinics that were on the frontline battling covid-19 cases. Soup kitchens increased in numbers and a lot of individuals freely served nutritional meals to members in society while adhering to Covid-19 health protocols. These soup kitchens were used to counter the possible effect of Covid-19 restrictions on a lack of food, a prediction that the World Bank initially shared for Sub-Saharan Africa. However this failed prediction proved once more that, Africa is not the stereotypical ‘Dark Continent’. Instead, governments and members of society incorporated the spirit of Ubuntu and came together to fight against one common enemy, the coronavirus.

If many countries in the world could incorporate the spirit of Ubuntu, even during such perilous times, it would truly make a difference in a world that is going through so much at the moment. A lot can be learned from Africa’s approach in tackling the pandemic, from cash reliefs offered by the state to something as simple as a soup kitchen. We all have a role to play in making a difference in this world. As we continue our fight against this virus, may the spirit of Ubuntu live in each and every one of us around the world.

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