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  • Writer's pictureEYT team

In the spirit of Ubuntu: South Africa's Youth as Change Agents

Imagine a world where the principles of ubuntu - forgiveness, empathy, and interconnectedness - were embraced and modelled by young people across the globe.

How do you think this could transform our collective efforts in building a more peaceful and harmonious world?

Ubuntu, a philosophical concept rooted in Southern African cultures, offers invaluable insights into the realm of peacebuilding and holds particular significance in the context of South Africa. This ancient African philosophy encapsulates the idea that our humanity is intrinsically bound together, emphasizing the interconnectedness of all individuals. Emerging as a guiding principle in the aftermath of apartheid, South Africa's painful history of racial segregation, ubuntu played a pivotal role in the nation's journey towards reconciliation and healing. Examining the principles of ubuntu reveals not only the power of forgiveness and empathy but also underscores the universal lessons it imparts, demonstrating its relevance to global peacebuilding efforts beyond the borders of South Africa.

I always knew that young people can change the world. It has been shown time and time again throughout the history. Whether through political activism or advocacy work- we have been leading the efforts.

Young people leading the efforts for peacebuilding

History stands witness to the remarkable ability of young people to envision and catalyze change. A striking illustration of this can be found in November 1989 when students bravely led a peaceful protest against communist rule, famously known as the Velvet Revolution, ultimately dismantling over four decades of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. Similarly, the year 2019 witnessed the ousting of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a feat primarily propelled by months of youth-led street demonstrations. The Arab Spring, too, bears testimony to the pivotal role played by young activists. This legacy of youth-driven peaceful activism endures through the ages. It comes as no surprise that today's youth continue to lead movements such as climate change protests, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, and the more recent campaigns to challenge Roe v. Wade and Iran's first counter-revolution led by women.

According to the World Youth Report of 2020, there are approximately 1.2 billion individuals aged 15 to 24, constituting 16% of the global population, and this number is projected to grow. Worldwide, young people are actively engaging in community development efforts to fortify and enhance their livelihoods. Whether through the establishment of local peace hubs, the formation of community volunteering clubs, or the fervent participation in peaceful protests, it is abundantly clear that the contributions and influence of youth should never be underestimated. Peace Jams across the globe are a testimony to these efforts.

Safe spaces for dialogue

South Africa stands out among those who embarked on a journey of rebuilding following the harrowing era of apartheid. Despite the efforts of leaders like Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in fostering safe spaces through the Truth and Reconciliation process, the path toward unity remains extensive, marked by a multitude of hurdles.

My fascination for the country and its history led me to the Western Cape province with a specific aim: to delve into the significance of "Ubuntu" in the realm of Peace Education. My curiosity was driven by a desire to uncover the spaces where communities meet and to identify the individuals or organizations actively working to unite people in their collective efforts to tackle the challenges.

Embracing the essence of Ubuntu, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community-based organizations (CBOs), universities, youth, and religious institutions have taken it upon themselves to mend the fabric of their communities. What struck me is that, at times, the profound lessons of peace education unfold in the most unexpected locations, including cafes, museums, conference rooms, and art studios. My findings pointed to a remarkable trend emerging as young individuals launch their own NGOs to tackle pressing social issues and foster community unity. These changemakers expose youth to arts, culture, and history, bridging divides and promoting empathy. They create spaces where diverse youth collaborate to innovate solutions, recognizing that understanding is as vital as action. These initiatives showcase the power of youth-led efforts in promoting social cohesion and inspiring others to shape a brighter future. Conversations with young leaders throughout the Western Cape reinforced the power of collective youth action and civic engagement echoed throughout the region.

Power of Community Spaces

As I mentioned, peace hubs can be created anywhere. As I approached the transformed bookshop in Cape Town, now a vibrant community space, anticipation filled the air. The warmth of the greetings, "Molo sisi, Unjani?" in isiXhosa, instantly made me feel embraced and encapsulated the spirit of Ubuntu that resonated throughout South Africa. This was a place where authenticity thrived, a safe haven where inclusivity and acceptance flourished. However, the recited poem exposed a contrasting reality – the enduring mistrust and exclusion experienced by people of colour in Cape Town. The verses poignantly depicted the daily struggles, and the constant need to prove one's worth in a society that remains elusive and unclaimed. It served as a powerful reminder of the ongoing work required to forge a truly inclusive and trusting society, a call to action to dismantle barriers and foster genuine equality.

The words of Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali echoed through the space as somebody started reciting the poem, amplifying the urgent need for social change. I couldn't help but reflect on this poem as I prepared to leave South Africa, realizing it had added another layer of understanding to just how much we all have to learn about nuances and context of spaces we navigate. In that moment, it became clear that the spirit of Ubuntu, carried forward by these young leaders, was not just a historical concept but a living force that continues to shape South Africa and has a potential becoming once again a path towards unity and peace. This holds true not only within South Africa but on a global scale.

Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali

I get up in the morning

and dress up like a gentleman –

A white shirt, a tie and a suit.

I walk into the street

to be met by a man

who tells me “to produce.”

I show him

the document of my existence

to be scrutinised and given the nod.

Then I enter the foyer of the building

to have my way barred by a commissionaire

“What do you want?”

I trudge the city pavements

side by side with “madam”

who shifts her handbag

from my side to the other,

and looks at me with eyes that say

“Ha! Ha! I know who you are;

beneath those fine clothes

ticks the heart of a thief.”

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1 Comment

aydn parrott
aydn parrott
Sep 20, 2023

Very interesting reflection as South Africa prepares for Heritage Day this coming weekend.

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