free web hosting | website hosting | Web Hosting | Free Website Submission | shopping cart | php hosting

Ubuntu and the globalisation of Southern African thought and society

by Wim van Binsbergen

69% de Descuento Comprar Zapato Mbt Zapatos 69% de Descuento Descuent Baratos Mbt Outlet Descuent Zapato Oferta Mbt Sandal Tamaño Zapato Cheap Mbt 69% de Descuento Women Zapatillas Mbt Baratas Baratos Online Outlet Mbt Calzados Shoes Women Mbt Zapatos Tamaño Oferta Precios Mbt Zapatos 69% de Descuento Comprar Calzados Mbt Sale Precios Zapato Niños Mbt 2014 Outlet Oferta Mbt Shoes Cheap Hombres Women Mbt Descuent Zapatillas Zapato Mbt Baratas Women Online 2014 Mbt Sale Zapato Descuent Cheap Mbt Baratas Calzados Outlet Precios Mbt Zapatillas Oferta Hombres Mujeres Mbt Calzado Outlet 2014 Zapato Mbt Outlet Outlet Shoes Tamaño Mbt Calzado Tamaño Outlet Women Mbt Sandal 2014 Women Precios Mbt Outlet Baratos Hombres Calzados Mbt Comprar Cheap Niños Mbt Sandal "



? 2002 Wim van Binsbergen[1]


Set against the background of the author抯 personal intellectual and political itinerary, the argument explores the contents, the format and societal locus of the concept of ubuntu as propounded by academic philosophers, managers and politicians in Southern Africa today. The concept抯 utopian and prophetic nature is recognised. This allows the author to see a considerable positive application for the concept at the centre of the globalised, urban societies of Southern Africa today. Ubuntu philosophy is argued to constitute not a straight-forward emic rendering of a pre-existing African philosophy available since times immemorial in the various languages belonging to the Bantu language family. Instead, ubuntu philosophy is a remote etic reconstruction, in an alien globalised format, of a set of implied ideas that do inform aspects of village and kin relations in many contexts in contemporary Southern Africa. The historical depth of these ideas is difficult to gauge. Their format differs greatly from the academic codifications of ubuntu. After highlighting the anatomy of reconciliation, the role of intellectuals, and the globalisation of Southern African society, the argument concludes with an examination of the potential dangers of ubuntu: mystifying real conflict, perpetuating resentment (as in the case of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission), and obscuring the excessive pursuit of individual gain.

1. Introduction: Ubuntu in various Southern African contexts and in a researcher抯 personal itinerary


Over the past twenty years,[2] ubuntu (a word from the Nguni language family, which comprises Zulu, Xhosa, Swati, and Ndebele) and the equivalent Shona word hunhu have been explored as viable philosophical concepts in the context of majority rule in South Africa and Zimbabwe. In the hands of academic philosophers, ubuntu/ hunhu has become a key concept to evoke the unadulterated forms of African social life before the European conquest. The world-view (in other words the values, beliefs, and images) of precolonial Southern Africa is claimed to survive today, more or less, in remote villages and intimate kin relationships, and to constitute an inspiring blue-print for the present and future of social, economic and political life in urban and modern environments, at the very centres of the economy and the political system. It is thus that ubuntu/ hunhu also serves as a concept in management ideologies in the transitional stages of post-apartheid. How does one manage the contradictions of the post-apartheid situation? That situation comprises: Africa抯 most viable economy; a highly complex, largely urban and industrial society; an overdeveloped state apparatus originally geared to oppression of the majority of its population; caste-like intra-societal divisions in terms of wealth, education, information, and concrete social power; the newly-gained constitutional equality of all South African citizens; the rising expectations among Black people who have historically been denied the White minority抯 privileges of class and colour; the majority抯 simmering resentment, both about past wrongs and about the slowness of present compensations and rewards; a drive among individual Blacks to gain financial and occupational security as quickly as possible; and the highest rates of violent crime in the world today. The contradictions which this combination of traits presents, have been manifest in myriad forms over the past decade. To confront these contradictions by an effective, factual renewal of social, economic, judicial and political life is a formidable task, that needs new and historically insuspect concepts, among which that of ubuntu has been proposed prominently.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? The form of the word ubuntu (and all equivalent forms in neighbouring languages) is purely productive in the morphological linguistic sense. It is the result of coupling the prefix generating abstract words and concepts (i.e. ubu-, in the Nguni languages) to the general root -ntu which one and a half centuries ago persuaded the pioneering German linguist Bleek[3] to recognise a large Bantu-speaking family: the entire group of languages, spoken from the Cape to the Sudanic belt, where the root -ntu stands for 慼uman?[4] Several morphological combinations involving the root -ntu are possible in any Bantu language; e.g. in the Nkoya language of western central Zambia, the following forms appear: shintu 慼uman? muntu 慳 human? bantu 慼umans, people? wuntu 慼uman-ness, the quality of being human, humanity (as a quality, not as a collective noun denoting all humans)? kantu 慚r Human? Buntu 憈he country of humankind? etc.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? Now, it is only human for such a basic word to have a very wide and internally richly textured semantic field, a vast area of possibilities and implications, out of which in concrete contexts a specific selection is being made, triggered by the juxtapositions which accompany the root -ntu (in its specific morphological elaborations) in that context.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? Thus in the context of African ritual in a village setting without strangers present, -ntu would primarily be used in opposition to the non-human visible world of the animal, vegetal and mineral kingdom, and to the invisible world of the supernatural, spirits, ancestors, gods, God. In this cosmological domain, not too much emphasis would be placed (as would be the case in Islam and Christianity) on the differences between -ntu and other ontological categories, but instead the essential continuity between these categories would be acknowledged. When a hunter after killing a large animal (lion, elephant) cannot simply return to the village but has to be cleansed first at the village boundary as if he were a murderer, this rule defines both the village as the purified, domesticated domain of the human by contrast to uncontrolled nature, and also the anthropomorphic qualities attributed to the animal in the sense of being capable of taking revenge and requiring propitiation.[5] The notion of supernatural transcendence is only weakly articulated in this Southern African world-view. Hence the difficulty of attributing the inevitable element of decay, death and destruction in human life to a transcendent divine agency; instead, in a sorcery-based conception of evil, humans tend to be blamed for the negative side of life.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? Somewhat contrasting with the cosmological application of -ntu, in a socio-legal context, when articulating the nature and degree of a person抯 transgression of social and religious norms, -ntu is likely to be used in order to juxtapose the inhuman, not in the sense of 慴eing bestial or divine? but in the sense of being 憃f humans, but transgressing the scope of humanity? The latter applies to sorcery; to extreme and uncalled-for violence especially between kinsmen; and to the extreme transgression of codes of conduct which regulate the behaviour between genders and between age groups (blatant disrespect vis-a-vis elders, overburdening under-age children, committing incest and murder etc.). There is a clear link here with the world-view discussed in the preceding paragraph: under such human transgressions, nature is supposed to grind to a halt, life force reduced to a minimum, and as a result crops fail, births stagnate, and death prevails, until the cosmological order is restored by socio-legal-ritual means, by a king if the society as a whole is affected, by a lesser chief or a diviner-priest in cases of more restricted scope. Two ways are open to handle the contradiction between 慼uman?and 憂o-longer-human?under this aspect of -ntu: the transgressing person may be coaxed back into the folds of humanity (by means of collective reconciliation, prayers at the ancestral shrine, elaborate admonitions, ritual cleansing, judicial action, payment of a fine), or declared to be hopeless and treated accordingly. In the latter case the return to humanity is ruled out by killing the perpetrator ?either by administering the poison ordeal under supervision of a king, chief or diviner-priest, or in the absence or behind the back of these authorities, by lynching. This shows that -ntu as a legal category is not infinitely accommodating, not without boundaries: extreme anti-social behaviour is its boundary condition.[6]

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? Finally, when strangers are part of the social situation in which the concept of -ntu is being used, especially in the colonial and postcolonial situation in Africa, -ntu invokes local, autochthonous humanity, by contrast to beings who somatically and historically clearly stand out as autochthonous, and whose very humanity therefore may be called in question, or even denied. The colonial officer, the missionary, the anthropologist, the capitalist farmer, the industrial manager and entrepreneur, for a century or more right up to the to the establishment of Black majority rule in Southern Africa, could never (and would never) aspire to the status of muntu in the eyes of the African majority population. In the colonial situation therefore the word muntu, or in its plural form bantu, emerged, in English and Afrikaans as spoken by the White dominant group, to contemptuously denote African colonial subjects ?by opposition to their political, industrial and spiritual, self-styled 憁asters? the Whites.[7] 慦hite muntu?/i>, ?i>muntu-lover? etc. was a common insult used by Whites against those who, despite European somatic features and origin, yet transgressed the boundaries of colonial society and identified with Blacks against the perceived, short-term interest of the White colonial presence. For a White person entertaining such Wahlverwandschaften[8] with Blacks in the colonial and post-colonial situation, part of her or his struggle for an Africa-oriented self-definition was to be accepted, by African friends, as muntu.

Indeed, I shall never forget how deeply moved I was when, after more than ten years of intensive contact with the Nkoya people in the context of anthropological and historical fieldwork in Zambia, one of my close Nkoya friends explained my position to another Nkoya man who, not knowing me personally, was uneasy about my presence in an otherwise fully Nkoya environment. My friend said:

Byo, baji muntu, baji kankoya ?憂o, can抰 you see, he is a [ Black ] person, he is a Nkoya?

Against this background it was a shock for me to be denied muntu-status in the urban, capitalist environment of Francistown, Botswana, and the surrounding Northeast district, a part of Botswana that ever since the late 19th century had been thoroughly exposed to the devastating effects of White monopoly capitalism. There any person having (like me) Dutch as his ethnic identity and mother tongue, was irrevocably[9] a hereditary enemy, a liburu (態oer-thing? li- being the prefix reserved for inanimate objects), and could never become a motho (憄erson-human? in the Tswana variant of the -ntu root). Being denied personhood landed me in a depression from which after a few years, thanks to the local treatment that was extended to me, I emerged as a sangoma:[10] a local, i.e. African, diviner-spriest, specialist in divination and healing, by public rituals and initiations confirmed in the status of autochthonous human person, and moreover, like all traditional religious and therapeutic specialists in Southern Africa, a recognised guardian of the spiritual principles that underlie local society. It is then also that I could realise how much my earlier identity as an investigating, empirical anthropological field-worker, professionally insisting on the otherness of my African research subjects and on my own strangerhood, constituted an ideology of absolute otherness embarrassingly similar to the restricted concept of muntu / bantu in the apartheid sense of African colonial subject. It is this insight that made me leave cultural anthropology behind and instead pursue a form of intercultural philosophy where dialogical intersubjectivity is taking the place of scientific objectivation.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? This stance informs the peculiar methodology of the present argument. While I do make use of social science insights into the nature of contemporary Southern African societies?(including those based on my own research), I will attempt not to objectify from a scholarly distance; neither to fall in the trap of accepting the codifiers?reifications of ubuntu as standard philosophical texts, merely offering philosophical criticism but ignoring the specific sociology of knowledge to which this reification owes its existence and appeal. Instead I shall make a personal participant抯 contribution to the continuing dialogue on issues of identity, values, and conflict. Recognising the utopian and prophetic nature of the concept of ubuntu will allow me to see a vast field of positive application for this concept at the centre of the globalised, urban societies of Southern Africa today. Ubuntu philosophy, I will argue, constitutes not a straight-forward emic rendering of a pre-existing African philosophy available since times immemorial in the various languages belonging to the Bantu language family. Instead, ubuntu philosophy will be argued to amount to a remote etic reconstruction, in an alien globalised format, of a set of implied ideas that do inform aspects of village and kin relations in at least many contexts in contemporary Southern Africa; the historical depth of these ideas is difficult to gauge, and their format differs greatly from the academic codifications of ubuntu. After highlighting the anatomy of reconciliation, the role of intellectuals, and the globalisation of Southern African society, my argument concludes with an examination of the potential dangers of ubuntu as mystifying real conflict, perpetuating resentment (as in the case of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission), and obscuring the excessive pursuit of individual gain.

2. Ramose on ubuntu and globalisation

The book African philosophy through ubuntu which my friend and colleague Mogobe Ramose published in Zimbabwe in 1999,[11] is in several respects a remarkable and refreshing contribution to African philosophy. Its background is not (as in most other African philosophy) the societies of West or East Africa but those of Southern Africa; current philosophical work from Africa, Belgium and The Netherlands features among the book抯 references while the French influence is limited; and the author抯 specialisation in the field of the philosophy of international relations (instead of metaphysics, classics, or African Studies) is reflected in the book抯 emphases. The book抯 final chapter deals with globalisation and ubuntu, and here the argument may be summarised as follows. The globalisation process in which the modern world is increasingly drawn, amounts to the ascendance of a market-orientated economic logic of maximalisation, in which the value, dignity, personal safety, even survival of the human person no longer constitute central concerns. This process is reinforced by the North Atlantic抯 region抯 drive for political and cultural hegemony. African societies have suffered greatly in the process, but their lasting value orientation in terms of ubuntu holds up an alternative in the sense that it advocates a renewed concern for the human person. This alternative, Ramose argues, is already applied in the peripheral contexts of villages and kin groups in Southern Africa today but is also capable of inspiring the wider world, where it may give a new and profound meaning to the global debate on human rights.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? For a declared and recognised Afrocentrist,[12] such a line of argument should be music to my ears. The argument is in line with the recent exhortations toward an African renaissance.[13] The general attitude implied in this position may be summed up as follows:

慉frica, which the force of North Atlantic hegemony has for centuries relegated to the periphery of global social, economic, and cultural life, proudly and defiantly declares that it possesses the spiritual resources needed to solve its own problems even though the latter were caused by outside influences ?and recommends the same spiritual resources as remedy for the ills of the wider world beyond Africa?[14]

Ubuntu as a form of African philosophy thus blends in with other potential, imagined or actual gifts of Africa to the wider world: African music and dance, orality and orature, kingship, healing rituals in which trance and divination play major roles, a specific appreciation of time, being and personhood ?all of them cultural achievements from which especially the North Atlantic could learn a lot and (to judge by the latter抯 dominant forms of popular music and dance throughout the twentieth century) is increasingly prepared to learn, in a bid to compensate such spiritual and corporeal limitations and frustrations as may be suspected to hide underneath the North Atlantic抯 economic, technological, political and military complacency.


3. Recognising the utopian and prophetic nature of ideology; the dilemmas of deconstruction

We should appreciate such a line of argument as utopian and prophetic.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? The word 憉topian?comes from the ancient Greek ou-, 憂o-? and topos, 憄lace? it designates the act of evoking an ideal society which is ?as yet ?nowhere to be found except in the philosopher抯 blue-print. The production of utopias constitutes a most respectable philosophical tradition: starting with Plato (whose work described utopias in Timaeus and Republic without using the technical term; and whose treatment of Egypt[15] is often utopian); then Plutarch (whose idealised description of Sparta is decidedly utopian); then via Thomas More抯 Utopia, and via Swift抯 and Montesquieu抯 caricatural utopias of the early Enlightenment which were only thinly disguised descriptions of their own times and age, to Engels, Mannheim, Bloch, Buber, Dahrendorf ?after which the concept ended up as a cornerstone of intercultural philosophy in the work of Mall.[16]

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? Less of a recognised philosophical concept is the term 憄rophetic? associated as this term is with philosophy抯 pious twin-sister theology, with the epistemological pitfall of foreknowledge, and with the mystical distancing from rationality.[17] I use 憄rophetic?here not in the sense of speaking in the name of[18] God, but as addressing the ills, contradictions and aporias of one抯 time and age: conditions which one shares with many other members of one抯 society, which one therefore has felt and grappled with in one抯 personal life, and which, once articulated in more general terms on that personal basis, are recognised by one抯 fellow-humans as illuminating, encouraging and empowering.[19] It is this 憄rophetic? methodology that largely informs the present argument; the other methodological theme is my conviction that it is pointless to study the contents of a philosophy (such as ubuntu) in isolation ?in vitro ?without constant reference to the particular sociology of knowledge by which it came into being and by which it is perpetuated.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? Serious problems await the intellectual if she or he fails to perceive utopian and prophetic statements as such, and instead proceeds to an empirical critique as if such statements are meant not primarily to muse and to exhort, but to give a factual description. Let me be allowed a personal example once more:

As beginning lecturers in sociology at the University of Zambia, in the early 1970s, my colleague Margareth Hall and I were invited by that institution抯 department of extra-mural studies, to tour the capitals of outlying provinces in order to lecture there on State President Kaunda抯 contributions to political philosophy and ideology, 慫ambian humanism?a href="#_ftn20">[20] ?which had become the official philosophy of the country抯 ruling United National Independent Party (U.N.I.P.). Inexperienced, and still without any real-life understanding of African political and social realities, we fell into the trap of publicly and lengthily critiquing Zambian humanism for presenting a distorted, nostalgic, one-sidedly positive portrayal of South Central African village life in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The message was jocularly received in Mansa, Luapula Province, where U.N.I.P. had nothing to fear and where the two of us constituted a welcome, though juvenile, intellectual divertimento straight from the national capital. However, things were very different in Mongu. This provincial capital had recently been renamed Western Province to stress the central state抯 supremacy after that province had for more than half a century entertained semi-independence as the Barotseland Protectorate.[21] Elections were approaching, Mongu was a stronghold for the opposition, and our visit coincided with a vote-rallying visit of U.N.I.P. leader Fines Bulawayo. In a formidable public speech the latter contested our right, as recently arrived expatriates straight from our European universities, to meddle in local political thought. For weeks we were kept in suspense, fearing to be declared prohibited immigrants, when finally a personal, remarkably appreciative letter from Mr Kaunda himself saved the situation.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? Reflection on this Zambian case may help to bring out the dilemmas that attend, thirty years later, the concept of ubuntu.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? Viewed as a moral and political exhortation and an expression of hope for a better future, ubuntu (just like Zambian humanism) creates a moral community, admission to which is not necessarily limited by biological ancestry, nationality, or actual place of residence. To participate in this moral community, therefore, is not a matter of birth-right in the narrower, parochial sense. If birth-right comes in at all, it is the birth-right of any member of the human species to express concern vis-a-vis the conditions under which her or his fellow-humans must live, and to act on that basis.[22] This moral community consists of people sharing a concern for the present and future of a particular local or regional society, seeking to add to the latter抯 resources, redressing its ills, and searching its conceptual and spiritual repertoire for inspiration, blueprints, models, encouragement in the process. In South Africa this is the programme of the African renaissance.[23] Afrocentricity[24] creates another such moral community, focusing not on a particular locality or region, but on the African continent as a whole. The people thus implicated may be expected to identify with each other and to be solidary in the pursuit of their concern. Whoever sets out to publicly deconstruct and even debunk the available conceptual and spiritual repertoire, dissociates from this moral community, rents its fabric, and jeopardises its project. From this perspective, Mr Bulawayo, in the above example, was certainly right; and we can understand how Mr Kaunda was able to save the situation by explicitly (re-)admitting, by his charismatic personal intervention, two young Europeans into this moral community.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? Leaving the moral and politically mobilising aspect aside, and speaking at a more detached and abstract plane of analysis, we could say that whoever attempts such deconstruction of ideology is guilty of overlooking the distinction between locutionary (? [ insert wavy = sign ] factual), illocutionary (? [ insert wavy = sign ] ?/span>putative) and perlocutionary (? [ insert wavy = sign ] persuasive) speech acts ?a distinction that ever since Austin has proved so fertile.[25] It is easy to see that Zambian humanism and ubuntu are not in the first place factual descriptions. They primarily express the speaker抯 dreams about norms and practices that allegedly once prevailed in what are now to be considered peripheral places (notably, within the intimacy of allegedly closely-knit villages, urban wards, and kin groups), while the speaker herself or himself is situated at or near the national or global centre. Such dreams about the past and the periphery are articulated, not because the speaker proposes to retire there personally or wishes to exhort other people to take up effective residence there, but because of their inspiring modelling power with regard to central national and even global issues ?in other words because of these dreams?alleged persuasive / perlocutionary nature outside the peripheral domain in which they are claimed to originate and to which they refer back.[26]

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? If, thirty years later, I have much less difficulty in identifying, in my capacity as a social actor in a concrete Southern African setting, with Zambian humanism, and with ubuntu, it is because I have enjoyed, for these many years, the (part-time) membership of the kind of local communities by distant reference to these two ideologies have been constructed in the first place. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s I have learned Zambian humanism and ubuntu, not so much as a value system spelled out explicitly (although there was that element, too: during court sessions, weddings, initiation rites, funerals), but especially more implicitly: as a diffuse value orientation informing the lives of others more local than I was then myself. I shared their lives as, alternately, they now applied and affirmed, then transgressed and rejected, these values, within the dynamics of conflicting pressures brought about by personal aspirations; by the sociability expected in a village and kin context; by the multiplicity and mutual incompatibility of their various roles and social ties; and by urban and modern goals, incentives and boundary conditions. It was in terms of this very value orientation that I was allowed to share their lives, and despite frequent transgressions both on my part and their own, this admission to their communities has been one of the greatest sources of pride and joy in my life. It is an honour from which I do not wish to dissociate myself permanently by an act of conceptual deconstruction ?even though this refusal greatly complicates my life as both an analyst and a participant.[27] This stance has brought me to embrace the status of diviner-priest and to identify with and to vocally represent Afrocentricity.


4. The value orientation of the village and the kin group is not standard in Southern Africa today

The value orientation of the village and the kin group, as sketched above, is not within easy reach of the globalised, urban population that has become standard in Southern Africa. Outside contemporary village contexts, it is only selectively and superficially communicated to the Southern African population at large. Much as I endorse Ramose抯 point that Southern Africa has something of great value to offer to the globalised world, we differ with regard of the role we assign to globalisation in this connection. For Ramose, globalisation is an outside phenomenon to be countered by ubuntu; I on the contrary argue that both contemporary Southern Africa, and ubuntu itself, are among the products of globalisation, and can only be understood as such products.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? The established, socially approved and public norm, especially in urban areas, revolves around the emphatic consumption of globally circulating manufactured products; formal education; world religions; formal organisations that structure the state, industry, schools and churches, and civic self-organisation; and notions of authority, causality and truth patterned by constitutional democracy, the Enlightenment, and modern global science. For the Southern African urbanite, especially the urbanite under forty years of age, to fall short of this norm is to admit personal failure, backwardness, rebellion, sin.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? In such a situation, religious and therapeutic leaders have a number of options open to them: from traditionalist defiance, via a combination of the old and the new,[28] to an emphatic rejection of local historic cultural forms (as among African Independent church leaders ? who often however smuggle into their Christian practice historic local elements in disguise). To ordinary people without any religious or therapeutic specialism, the strong pressure of globalisation in the public culture leaves open mainly two strategies to adopt vis-a-vis local historic cultural and religious forms.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? The first lay strategy is to become a 憂ominally-local non-initiate? Today the majority of inhabitants of Southern Africa, and especially of the Republic of South Africa, have been so effectively exposed to globally circulating cultural, productive, reproductive and consumptive models, underpinned by equally global technologies of information and communication (including the printed press, radio, television, the Internet, and globally circulating styles of dress, self-definition, recreation and work), that they are no longer in any direct contact with, have no longer any real competence with regard to, the values, beliefs and images of Southern African village societies. If these non-initiates would wish to tap these resources (and their most likely reason for occasionally doing so would be a profound existential crisis calling for traditional therapy), they have to learn the values, beliefs and images of the village more or less from scratch, as if they were cultural strangers. It is for this reason that the practice of traditional healer in Southern Africa today in large part involves re-education and re-conversion of modernised clients: from nominal locals (who are effectively non-believers in historic African religion) into local initiates who are at least competent at the lay level and who can thus begin to play the role of therapeutic and ritual clients of these ritual specialists. For the same reason the images of traditional life circulating in urban Southern Africa are superficial and stereotyped at best, and often substantially beside the truth.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? The second strategy, frequently pursued by moderately globalised persons in Southern Africa today, is to submit publicly to the pressures of displaying a globalised modern culture, while in the more hidden niches of life, village forms are allowed to play some part, as long as this part is publicly hidden and dissimulated by the person in question.

Thus one can easily be a smartly dressed office clerk pursuing a modern career during the day-time on weekdays, a patron of fashionable cocktail bars after work, and a prominent Christian church elder on most Sundays, spending the rest of the weekend on the construction of a modern house along municipal regulations at some site-and-service residential scheme, while on certain nights in the wee hours one frequents shebeens where alcohol consumption and casual sex are combined with the chanting of ancient songs featuring clans and totems and jokingly challenging those present from other clans, ?only to return to the village (at a distance of up to a few hundred kilometres) once a month in order to engage there in ritual obligations imposed by the ancestral and High God cults. The latter activities would be kept completely invisible at the urban scene: one would deny ? except before people hailing from the same village ?all knowledge of and allegiance to them once back in town. In other words, village cultural and religious forms go into hiding under this strategy ?they exist only underground and cannot be publicly articulated within the globalised urban space.[29]

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? Under these circumstances the majority of the population of Southern Africa today cannot be properly said to know and to live ubuntu by virtue of any continuity with village life. They have to be educated to pursue (under the name of ubuntu) a global and urban reformulation of village values. And they learn this on the authority, not of traditional diviner-priests to whom one cannot appeal in the globalised space without great personal embarrassment, but of recognised opinion leaders of the globalised centre: politicians, university intellectuals. And the latter can only reach the globalised urban population if ?and this is a point we shall have to come back to below ?they cast their message in a format that has currency and legitimacy both for themselves and in the globalised space at large. Ubuntu as a model of thought therefore had to take on a globalised format in order to be acceptable to the majority of modern Southern Africans.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? This brings us to an examination of the format under which the values, beliefs and images informing village and family life are historically produced. But let us first take a closer look at the most obvious context in which the concept of ubuntu is being applied, that of reconciliation at the central, urban sectors of post-apartheid South African.


5. The anatomy of reconciliation and the role of intellectuals in Southern Africa today

As a transformative concept in Southern African large-scale societies recently emerged from devastating armed conflict, ubuntu抯 general application is in the sphere of reconciliation.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? Now, reconciliation is called for whenever two conflicting parties are opposed to one another yet each may be recognised to have substantial reasons to claim that right is on their side; in such a situation (typical of intercultural contexts, when two life worlds, two universes of meaning, confront each other; but not limited to such intercultural contexts) no appeal to legal rules will offer a way out of the impasse, because it is precisely the subjective perception, on both sides, of what is right which has created the impasse. Reconciliation now creatively invents an argument of an higher order, in the light of which both parties may voluntarily let go of their subjective conviction of being right, persuaded by considerations of a higher value which, on second thoughts (and with a considerable amount of inventive prodding on the part of the conciliator) both parties turn out to share. Reconciliation therefore amounts to the active creative redefinition, by conceptual and emotive sleight-of-hand (in other words, the deliberate bending of reality for the sake of the solution of conflict), of a situation which, without such redefinition, could only remain a stale-mate.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? This is how conflict settlement seems to work in numerous cases. In African societies, which tend to be incompletely domesticated by formal organisations including the state, interpersonal and intergroup conflict often dominate the social process. The social fabric is woven not out of the avoidance but out of the settlement of conflict, by elaborate social technologies (including litigation, ritual, reconciliation) which ?at least at the small-scale and intermediate level ?are among the most effective in the world.[30]

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? Such a model of reconciliation will go a long way towards the identification, and the solution, of the kind of conceptual, legal, religion and moral stale-mates which largely make up the contemporary, globalising, multicultural world. Reconciliation can be produced by sleight-of-hand, by pressing into service a Grand Narrative or Myth, which often has been invented ad hoc and which is ultimately performative and illusive.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? If parties in a conflict define themselves by some kind of particularism that ties them to a locality, a form of production, gender, age, ethnicity, collective excperience etc., then an appeal to universal mankind would provide the ultimate high-order argument, not just in the case of ubuntu, but in all human situations. We must realise that in many other contexts, outside Southern Africa, the appeal to human-ness or humanity occurs in ways very similar to those proclaimed by ubuntu. The very term 慼uman rights?suggests so much: it defines not primarily ?for such would be superfluous ?the ontological entities to whom these rights apply (humans), but especially the extent of their application: universal, applying to all humans.[31]

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? Where do such effective Grand Narratives come from in the modern world? The term we owe to Lyotard,[32] but it is Foucault[33] who has called our attention to the fact that at least in the North Atlantic region during modern times, the societal legitimation and micropolitical underpinning which used to be provided by religion, since the Renaissance and certainly since the Enlightenment has increasingly derived from scientific knowledge production. First in the North Atlantic, and subsequently (after the colonial conquest and its postcolonial consolidation under U.S.A. hegemony) on a global scale, science has become the main recognised source of truth, morals, rights and justifications. A conciliator seeking to invent a higher-order reason to bring about reconciliation between two parties locked in a stalled argument, could do not better than to appeal to the world of academia, finding there a new argument which the conflictive dialogue between the parties has hitherto overlooked.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? The dominance of North Atlantic scholarly, legal and expressive forms, and the commodified formats defined in those contexts (books, articles, Internet documents, videos, movies, CDs etc.) mean that also arguments originating outside the North Atlantic, from a totally different and historically fairly unrelated context, stand a good chance of gaining greater conviction if paraded in the name of global (but effectively, as far as their most recent history is concerned, North Atlantic) scientific knowledge production. It is the irony of many identity constructions and identity claims outside the North Atlantic today, that in order to succeed, in order to be taken seriously by their actual and potential adherents and by others including national and international governmental bodies, they need to be formulated in the academic and commodified format stipulated (even imposed) under North Atlantic hegemony.[34] A familiar technique to sweep under the table the intolerable submission to North Atlantic models which this process entails, consist in playing down the North Atlantic nature of the format, calling it universal or global instead. And it is quite possible that a genuine transformation, a genuine trans-hegemonic redefinition, takes place in?the dominant format, once it is successfully appropriated, adapted and improved upon by intellectual and social constructors who are not in or from the North Atlantic. Elsewhere I have explored the global yet North Atlantic positioning of Information and Communication Technology, in the light of its subsequent, fairly successful African appropriation.[35] There I have argued that it is not the denial of


(a) North Atlantic antecedents, nor of

(b) successful African appropriation and enculturation,


but the recognition of the irresolvable polarity, of the tension relationship between (a) and (b), which provides us with a model helping to understand the cultural and political contradictions of the modern, globalised world. Applying the same insight (which I consider fundamental for intercultural philosophy), we could acknowledge the tension between ancestral and global formats and contents in ubuntu, without seeking to resolve that tension by opting for either of these complementary poles and denying authenticity and legitimacy to the other pole.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? Let us now investigate both poles in their own right.


6. The format of values, beliefs and images informing village and family life

For a proper understanding of the nature and the societal locus of the concept of ubuntu in Southern Africa today it is of the greatest importance to appreciate the specific format under which the ideas, beliefs and images informing today抯 village communities and family situations present themselves. Both as an anthropologist and as a diviner-priest I have familiarised myself somewhat with these formats. In these contexts, the village and family world-view is presented by the people as time-honoured, ancestral, unchanging. But this may be deceptive, after the by now all-too-familiar model of the 慽nvention of tradition?[36] All we know for sure is:


?span style="mso-tab-count:1">牋牋 that these values, beliefs and images are propounded today,

?span style="mso-tab-count:1">牋牋 that (like any world-view wherever and whenever) they inform people抯 thought and behaviour only partially and far from totally, and

?span style="mso-tab-count:1">牋牋 that even in the remotest places and most intimate, most strongly signified situations these values, beliefs and images are often confronted with antagonistic pressures deriving from more globalised domains of contemporary Southern Africa.


牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? Also as ethnographers and analysts we are often brought to project the world-view we encounter during out research, back into the past, at least by a few centuries, perhaps the time of the emergence of the Bantu language family, or even a few further to the invention of agriculture and animal husbandry ?the productive basis of the African village. It is especially tempting to see in today抯 village life an unaltered continuation of the normative patterns governing nineteenth-century villages as peopled by the direct ancestors of present-day villagers.[37] But we could only be reasonably sure of such continuity on the basis of extensive historical research, which (although frequently conducted and leading to numerous published products, whose enumeration and critique however is beyond the present scope) is severely handicapped by the paucity of vernacular nineteenth-century sources and by the fact that the nineteenth century is sinking below the horizon of living memory and reliable oral tradition. What is more, on theoretical, epistemological and comparative grounds we have to suspect that the Southern African village and the social and normative patterns that governed it, instead of constituting a perennial lived reality, have to some extent been a creation of colonial administration, missionary activities, industrial relations based on labour migration, and social anthropological aggregate description.[38] Anyway, even if it ever were a reality, in the course of the twentieth century the Southern African village increasingly became a myth[39] ? not only in the hands of anthropologists, administrators, industrialists and missionaries, but also as re-appropriated, from such alien sources, into African perceptions and expressions of identity and nostalgia ?as happened also to the concepts of tribe, ethnicity, and culture.[40] In other words, we cannot be sure that even at the level of late-twentieth-century villages in Southern Africa, the concept of ubuntu (or Zambian humanism, for that matter) is more than perlocutionary or illocutionary: constituting not so much the enunciation of an actual practice, but at best a local ideology to which appeal is made whenever actual practice is initiated (e.g. at initiation rites and weddings) or whenever actual practice is argued (in conflict settlement, divination) to stray too far from this ideal. On such occasions, and in line with my general characterisation of reconciliation as presented above, utterances invoking principles of sociability reminiscent of those which Southern African philosophers have summarised under the heading of ubuntu, are set in a context of elaborate rhetorical arts in which the available cultural material is presented in a strategic, eclectic, and innovative manner. These verbal elements are often so complex, cryptic, multi-layered and internally contradictory,[41] archaic, and multi-referential,[42] that the socio-ritual events in which they feature produce implied meaning (as a vehicle of sociability within the village and the kin group, but also leaving open the possibility of the opposite of sociability) much more than that they articulate explicit and codifiable meaning. Traditional religious leaders and therapists (locally called banganga, dingaka, basangoma etc.), as well as village elders, chiefs and the specialists (both women and men) supervising puberty initiation, are the guardians and articulators of this world-view. Their specific ritual, therapeutic, linguistic (cf. proverbs, archaic and honorific expressions, tabooed words), legal and historical knowledge, in the way in which it is socially utilised in its own proper context, is not systematised, not codified. It is oral, vernacular, rambling, situational. It does not exist in the itemised, linearised, generalised, objectified format of discursive academic descriptions whose globally converging format has crystallised out in the course of the last few millennia, in a context of literacy, the state, formal organisations, world religions, world-wide trade, universalising science, and other globalising tendencies. The embeddedness of the Southern African local specialist knowledge in the day-to-day physical and social environment of the rural community and its productive and reproductive processes lends to the local expressions of this knowledge a tacit meaningfulness, a powerful self-evidence, which is practically impossible to reproduce or even to obliquely indicate or suggest outside this original setting except perhaps ?under a totally different format ?by the elaborate technology of the imagination at the disposal of the novelist and the film-maker. I have never witnessed the technical terms ubuntu (or local morphological equivalents) or Zambian humanism to be used as a matter of course, of accepted parlance, in these concrete situations of the village and the family. At best they were used as in quasi-quotation, introducing into the vernacular world of the village and the family a stilted (and often somewhat ironical) reference to the outside world of literacy, politics and ideology. These terms do not belong to the format of expression proper to those situations. The meanings covered by those terms are admittedly at home in the village and the family but (because of the various perspectives of -ntu as discussed in the opening section of this argument, and because of the complex, largely implicit way of expressing local social models as indicated in the present section) this semantic complex cannot be said to be articulated predominantly, let alone exclusively, by reference to various nominal forms of the root -ntu.


7. Ubuntu as a deceptively vernacular term for an etic concept formulated in a globally circulating format

Therefore, to describe the values, beliefs and images at operation at the village and family level as 憈he Southern African indigenous philosophy of ubuntu?amounts to a rendering (in discursive academic, specifically philosophical, terms which exemplify globally circulating conceptual usage) of ideas that are certainly implied in Southern African village practices and ideas but that exist there under different, much more diffuse and situationally varying, linguistic formats. Ubuntu in the sense of the conceptual complex which modern exponents of ubuntu philosophy claim to exist around that term, is at best a transformative rendering, in a globally mediated, analytical language, of vernacular practices and concepts which are very far from having a one-to-one linguistic correspondence with the phraseology of ubuntu philosophy.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? Half a century ago the social anthropologist and linguist Pike coined the paired concepts of emic and etic to capture a similar distinction.[43] The systematisation of ubuntu as an alleged indigenous philosophy is an etic practice that remotely, analytically and transformingly represents emic i.e. vernacular practices that take place in peripheral contexts in present-day Southern Africa, and that in meaning, but not in strict format, may more or less correspond with the explicit, rational, discursive statements as published.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? The self-proclaimed experts on ubuntu form a globally-informed, Southern African intellectual elite who, remote in place and social practice from the emic expressions at the village level which they seek to capture, have officially coined the concept of ubuntu as a cornerstone Southern African self-reflexive ethnography.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? While the format in which the philosophy of ubuntu is cast in contemporary treatises is that of the Western tradition of discursive philosophical argument, these intellectual productions have a more specific ancestry in the spate of writings which, under the general heading of 慉frican philosophy? have been published by African intellectuals in the second half of the twentieth century CE.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? Valentin Mudimbe, a famous analyst and critic of this form of intellectual production, has characterised a major division of such writings (those produced by Roman Catholic or post-Catholic intellectuals with a seminary education) as 憈he liberation of difference??of the difference that speaking in an African voice makes ?in the context of the White-dominated emergent intellectual climate of colonial and early post-colonial Africa, under strong North Atlantic cultural and political hegemony.[44] In order to pinpoint the peculiar handling of historic African cultural and religious material in the context of the intellectual genre of 慉frican philosophy? Mudimbe coined the term retrodiction (憇peaking backwards?: African clerical intellectuals like Kagame and Mveng are said to have engaged in retrodiction when they reconstructed and vicariously represented a precolonial, pre-Christian African village-based life-world, which they themselves no longer lived nor believed in, and which yet was dear to them as a source of inspiration and pride ? as an identity recaptured in the face of the North Atlantic rejection of Black people and their powers of thought and agency. In these, in majority francophone, attempts to reconstruct, re-appropriate, and assert a philosophical perspective that is Western in format yet is proclaimed to be pre-colonial African in content, historic[45] African thought is depicted as revolving on a human-centred ontology, which African authors and sympathetic European observers[46] already have a century ago habitually cast in terms of the same Bantu-language root -ntu that was later, to emerge as the cornerstone of ubuntu philosophy.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? In Southern Africa the liberation of Black difference through philosophical (as distinct from literary and artistic) production has lagged behind to that in West and East Africa. The adoption of the globally circulating genre of African philosophy by Southern African intellectuals was retarded by the language barrier between English / Afrikaans on the one hand and French on the other; by the relatively late rise to popularity of African philosophy among anglophone intellectuals (including African intellectuals working or studying there) in the North Atlantic region; and by the general intellectual isolation in which South Africa was shrouded as a result of the international boycott to which the apartheid state was subjected in the 1970s and especially 1980s.[47]

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? Ubuntu is a tool for transformation in a context of globalisation. As an etic rendering in a globally mediated format, it has emerged, and takes its form and contents, in the realities of post-apartheid South Africa today. The concept of humanity is by definition extremely wide, with many different applications in many different specific contexts. Of these, the current use of the concept of ubuntu in South African political and management discourse is likely to be restricted to a few eminently 憉sable?varieties ?usable, not because they betray or deny the past, but because they help to negotiate the future despite the divisiveness of the past and the present. Therefore, looking for the 憈rue?precolonial or nineteenth-century meaning of ubuntu through etymological, ethnographic and historical procedures would be based on a misunderstanding of what ubuntu is, and is meant for. Nonetheless, like most ideologies, ubuntu is legitimated by the claim (which in principle amounts to a locutionary statement, open to empirical substantiation or falsification) that this concept sums up the ancestral value orientation of the majority of the Southern African globalised urban population today.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? In the works of Southern African writers on ubuntu, that concept is presented as a major philosophical achievement, as one of Africa抯 great intellectual and moral contributions to mankind as a whole. Here we should distinguish between two points of view:


(a)? the systematic, expert, and loving reconstruction of African systems of thought, and

(b)? the view of culture as integrated and unified,[48] as if organised around one alleged key concept artificially raised to star status, in this case the concept of ubuntu.


As a long-standing intellectual endeavour of the greatest value, the pursuit of (a) has been, and will continue to be, one of the important tasks of cultural anthropology, African philosophy and intercultural philosophy. This pursuit depends, for its epistemological acceptability, on explicit, collectively underpinned scholarly procedures whose specific nature is critically defined by the disciplinary community of Africanists researchers in continuous debate. In this process the contribution from the part of African researchers and non-academic sages[49] is more and more substantial, and more and more taken into account. The present argument is a contribution to that endeavour. The current ubuntu industry, however, has largely resorted to (b). Distantly, and without recourse to explicit and systematic methodological and empirical procedures, but instead driven by academic philosophers?and management concultants?intuitive linguistic analyses and childhood reminiscences. If ubuntu is to be Africa抯 great gift to the global world of thought, it is primarily not the African villagers?gift, but that of the academic and managerial codifiers who allowed themselves to be distantly and selectively inspired by village life: ignoring the ubiquitous conflicts and contradictions, the oppressive immanence of the world-view, the witchcraft beliefs and accusations, the constraint oscillation between trust and distrust, and merely appropriating and representing the bright side.


8. Why ubuntu can yet be expected to make a difference

Having said this, the major questions remains: Can ubuntu philosophy be expected to bring the positive change advocated in its name? And how would we substantiate our answer to this question?

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? Statements of ubuntu philosophy suggest that, now that the mists of North Atlantic hegemonic subjugation and the ensuing self-censorship have been lifted from the minds of African thinkers, the true African thought can come out in an unadulterated form that, since the urban, modern consumers of such a restated philosophy can largely identify as Africans, will inspire their actions in majority-rule South Africa and Zimbabwe for the better. We have to take considerable distance from this suggestion, without totally dismissing it.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? The production of ubuntu philosophy is better described in the following terms: A regional intellectual elite, largely or totally weaned away from the village and kin contexts to which ubuntu philosophy explicitly refers, employs a globally circulating and in origin primarily North Atlantic format of intellectual production in order to articulate, from a considerable distance, African contents reconstructed by linguistic, ethnographic and other means which are largely unsystematic and intuitive.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? 慙iberation of Black difference?as an expression is not far from the creation of a moral community of people concerned about the present and future of Southern Africa, which in the opening paragraphs of this argument I identified as the obvious goal of the ubuntu philosophy. Since most of the forces that have shaped the societies of contemporary Southern Africa can be subsumed under the heading of globalisation, it stands to reason that an intellectual product meant to overcome the negative effects of these forces has to be global in format, even though its contents is largely inspired by the local intimacy of village and kin group. If in concrete situations of social transformation and conflict the appeal to ubuntu is going to make a positive difference, the global format lends recognition and respectability in ways the original, implicit normative orientation of contemporary Southern African village and kin situation could never claim in an urban, globalised context. In this respect the intellectual exponents of ubuntu may be said to have created a potentially powerful tool. Since the tool is to be used exhortatively in Southern African situations that are largely globalised, it does not really matter whether the ethnographic and linguistic underpinnings of ubuntu philosophy are empirically and epistemologically impeccable in the way they should be if ubuntu philosophy were primarily locutionary (an etic restatement of emic concepts and agency), instead of an exhortative instrument at the service of modern urban society at large. Being prophetic, ubuntu philosophy seeks to address fundamental ills in the make-up of urban, globalised Southern Africa: the social life world of its academic authors. Being utopian, the images of concrete social life featuring in statements of ubuntu do not have to correspond to any lived reality anywhere ?they are allowed to refer to 慛o-Place? and to merely depict, through social imagery, desired changes to be brought about by an application of the precepts contained in ubuntu.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? How then could ubuntu, conjuring up images of a viable and intact village society, be expected to make a difference in the utterly globalised context of urban Southern Africa and its conflict-ridden social, industrial, ethnic, and political scene? Would not the rural reference, because of its obvious irrelevance in the urban globalised context, annul any advantages that may be derived from the globalised format of ubuntu philosophy?

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? I can see at least three reasons to expect considerable success for ubuntu.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? One reason I take from the analogy with girl抯 initiation rites in contemporary urban Zambia,[50] a social context that (despite its poverty and defective infrastructure) is in many respects comparable to South Africa and Zimbabwe. Girl抯 initiation rites are cast in a time-honoured rural idiom revolving on female identity, as underpinned by a detailed knowledge and appreciation of the female body, and a celebration and sacralisation of productive and reproductive capacities, often in forms and with emphasis way out of line with current urban life. One would have expected such rites to decline and disappear, but on the contrary they are only becoming more and more popular, especially among the middle classes: the construction of female identity with powerful, ancient symbols is apparently a lasting, major concern even, or especially, in the face of globalisation. Ubuntu could serve an analogous purpose.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? In the second place, the symbolic technologies offered by local village-based symbols, concepts and practices, be they girl抯 initiation, ubuntu, or otherwise, constitute a form of symbolic empowerment for the very people who (in Zambia in the late 1950s, in Southern Africa in the 1970s and 1980s) fought to attain majority rule and cast off the joke of North Atlantic cultural and symbolic, as well as political, military and economic, dominance. Ubuntu offers the appearance of an ancestral model to them that is credible and with which they can identify, regardless of whether these urban, globalised people still observe ancestral codes of conduct ?of course in most respects they do not, regardless of whether the ancestral codes are rendered correctly (often they are not).

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? In the third place, ubuntu is especially appealed to when it comes to the settlement of seemingly unsolvable conflicts and insurmountable contradictions ?such as massively dominate life in Southern Africa today. Against the background of the anatomy of reconciliation discussed above, ubuntu, when appealed to in the modern management of urban and national conflicts, can be effective, but not because it summarises the internalised cultural orientations of the Africans involved in such conflict ?very far from it, for these Africans are largely globalised in their world-view and practices, and are no more governed by village rules and allegiances than people in similar urban and national arenas in other continents. Despite having rural and small-scale face-to-face relationships as its referent, ubuntu can be effective, in the first place because it is appreciated as an African thing, but in the second place and especially because, despite its globally-derived format, it introduces non-global, particularistic and intimate elements in the very heart of Southern African globalisation. Ubuntu can work precisely because it is novel, out of place there where it is most appealed to. It allows the conflict regulator to introduce an unexpected perspective to which (for historical, identity and strategic reasons) few parties could afford to say 憂o?


9. Limitations and dangers of ubuntu

Ubuntu then appears as a lubricant of social relations at the globalised urban centre of contemporary Southern African society, as a deus ex machina offering a way out where little else can. If it helps to overcome otherwise insurmountable contradictions, it produces sociability and alleviates tension. It may do so in situations where avoiding or overcoming the manifestation of open conflict is to the benefit of all parties involved.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? When in contemporary South African situations of transition an appeal is made to ubuntu, this means in the first place an invocation of the fellow-humanity of all involved in the concrete situation at hand. It is a way of saying:

慉dmittedly, we have so many things that divide us, in terms of age, gender, class, wealth, somatic appearance, cultural style, language, ethnicity, political allegiance; all these identities refer to past experiences which may have been very different and in the course of which the various sets of human beings which make up the present concrete situation may have found themselves in opposite but complementary positions of exploitation, suffering, violence, denial, wrong-doing. It is no use denying these differences and the historical experiences that are tied to them; it is in fact impossible to deny them. Yet, by stressing our common, shared humanity we hope to define a common ground which may help us to find a way out of the impasse which our historical difference have ended us up in.?a href="#_ftn51">[51]

So far so good. But we hit here on a theoretical danger of ubuntu. Use of this term tempts us to deny all other possibilities of identification between Southern African actors except at the most abstract, most comprehensive level of mankind as a whole: as fellow human beings. An appeal to ubuntu implies that the speaker takes for real and insurmountable the divisions of class, somatic appearance, ethnicity, language, gender, religious denomination and political affiliation that enter into any concrete social situation. Appealing, in any Southern African gathering of local citizens, members of the same local community, the same polity, speaking the same linguae francae, having lived through the same traumatic experience of apartheid, enjoying the same benefit of South Africa抯 restored esteem and economic hegemony among the nations of Africa and the world ? appealing, in such a context, merely to a shared humanity, amounts to denying, in effect, the entire moral, historical, informational and cultural basis out of which any nation-state consists, even a traumatised one like South Africa.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? Moreover, I fear that ubuntu would also serve as a lubricant or a pacifier (in the child-care sense) in situations where conflict is real and should not be obscured by smothering it under a blanket of mutually recognised humanity of the parties involved. I shall briefly discuss two such instances: the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (T.R.C.), and continuing class conflict after the attainment of majority rule.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? Probably the most widely advertised public application of the concept of ubuntu (although the concept itself remained largely implicit in that context) was that of the T.R.C., which reviewed the crimes against humanity perpetrated under apartheid, and offered the perpetrators re-acceptance into the new South African society at no greater personal cost than admission of guilt and offering of apologies. Here ubuntu, from a quality that a person could have or have not, obtained a relational dimension: it became something that one could generously extend to those who had shown to have too little of it. The semantic field of ubuntu came to include 憈he perpetrator抯 restored personhood as granted by the very individual they wronged.?/i> Underlying this is a concept of reconciliation that is profoundly Christian. It can be no accident that no traditional diviner-priests (guardians of the ancestral world-view) participated in the T.R.C. context, where they could have articulated Southern African viewpoints on evil, sin, and not only the possibility but also the limitations of expiation. In the absence of such experts, the concept of ubuntu was to supply what little traditional guidance was allowed to inform the situation. The Black African population of South Africa, having been immensely wronged by White people with a European background, was in the end not even free to define the terms under which it would be prepared to leave this past behind them, and to include regional historic elements of an African culture of justice and expiation among these terms; no, even the terms of reconciliation were set by European and White dominance ?even if this dominance had the amicable, integrity-exuding, and unmistakably Black face of Archbischop Tutu. The T.R.C., and the occasional appeal to ubuntuin that connexion, conveyed the suggestion that unconditional forgiveness and cleansing merely on the basis of a verbal admission of guilt is part of the Southern African ancestral cultural heritage. Such a suggestion is misleading, as we have seen above when discussing -ntu under its socio-legal aspect. The perpetrators of atrocities under the apartheid state qualify as sorcerers and might have been treated accordingly. For such treatment a number of more or less draconian precepts are available. This is one major example of how under contemporary conditions ubuntu is pressed into service at the centre of national political affairs, in mystifying ways that deny or pervert time-honoured African values, under the pretence of articulating those very values. In years to come South African society will yet have to pay the price for the massive and manipulative repression of resentment and anger caused by the historically ungrounded use of ubuntu in the context of the T.R.C..

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? Something similar can be seen in the handling of ubuntu in the context of continuing and acerbating class conflict in Southern Africa today. The transformation of Zimbabwe after 1980, and that of South Africa after 1990, has involved a massive reshuffle of social, economic and political power. In both countries, the White-Black contradiction that dominated the decades before majority rule, has resulted in the overthrow of White supremacy, but in most other respects the fundamental relations of inequality were not radically confronted: those between town and country, between land-owners and the landless, between middle classes and the urban poor, between men and women, between the educated and the non-educated, and between the middle-aged and the young. Here ubuntu may serve as a liberating transformative concept in the hands of those who wish to build the country, but it can also be wielded as a mystifying concept in the hands of those who, after the post-apartheid reshuffle, were able to personally cross over to the privileged side of the huge class divide, without being over-sensitive to the wider social costs of their individual economic and status advancement. This process is widely noticeable in South Africa today. It is what people euphemistically call the Africanisation of that country抯 economic and public sphere. Those using the concept of ubuntu selectively for their own private gain, seem to be saying to their fellow participants:

慔ow could you possibly question the way in which this specific situation is being handled by us, whereas it is clear that we appeal to our most cherished common African ancestral heritage, to our ubuntu!?a href="#_ftn52">[52]

It would be difficult to protest, as a born African, against the manipulative use of ubuntu defined as an eminently ancestral, African concept summing up the eternal value of African cultures finally finding recognition. Let it therefore be me who protests, as an honorary African.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? With a crime rate that is by far the highest in the world, post-apartheid South Africa needs, in addition to the sociability of ubuntu, more factual, locutionary, and urban-based tools of self-redress ?including a profound commitment to class analysis and gender analysis; an admittance that certain contradictions are simply too real to smother under sociability; a positive appreciation of legitimate force, even violence (if truly monopolised by a truly democratic state), in the creation and maintenance of socially essential boundaries ?boundaries that protect the values they enclose, instead of excluding a majority of people from partaking of those values; and a sustained reflection on the dangers of repressed anger, resentment, and grief.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? Without the further elaboration stipulated in the previous paragraph, ubuntu runs the risk of sinking back to the semantic field where the kindred words muntu and bantu (as well as the originally Arabic kaffir, 慽nfidel? were situated for many decades in South Africa under apartheid: pejorative expressions for financially robbed, easily exploitable, legally unprotected, socially excluded and mentally broken Black subject-hood.

That ubuntu carries, in principle, the potential of referring, not to the liberation of Black African difference but to its subjugation to White class interests, and by extension to elite interests in general, became clear to me when in 1999, as a member of a team further comprising Mogobe Ramose, Vernie February and the local Roman Catholic pastor, we interviewed a village elder in a rural district about 60 km north of Pretoria. A straight-forward translation of the (Nguni) concept of ubuntu was impeded by the fact that the conversation was conducted in the Tswana language (where ubuntu translates as botho). Expecting to trigger, with our magical concept, a full indigenous philosophical account on local values of human-ness, this unmistakable 憇age?utterly failed to oblige, and instead treated us to a long and shocking story on the history of his village throughout the twentieth century ?a history in which bantu-hood (in other words, ubuntu) was clearly conceived, in the apartheid sense, as the experience of suffering at the hands of local White self-styled landowners.

This is a usage of the root -ntu that was explicitly acknowledged in the beginning of this paper when setting out that root抯 semantic field. I suspect that this meaning continues to adhere implicitly even to the most transformative, liberating usage of ubuntu in modern urban Southern Africa, as an ironical reminder that this concept carries, in the best dialectic (marx) or deconstructive (Derrida) traditions, the seeds of its own opposite or denial. We must not underrate such a concept抯 rhetorical and manipulative potential, also for mystification and not only for positive exhortation.

牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋牋? In the light of these moral, humanitarian and political concerns, I feel justified in presenting the attempt at respectful criticism out of which this article consists. Probably for some exponents of ubuntu such criticism will expel me, after all, from the moral community for whose creation ubuntu philosophy was intended in the first place. So be it; but a moral community constructed, with admitted and explicable success, by ubuntu, is not the only modern moral community that Southern Africa needs. In addition to the entrancing (and often deceptively vulnerable, manipulable and ephemeral) communities created by the articulation of identity, invnted tradition, and common humanity, it is no shame to also aspire to membership of the moral community that (in the best radical, Marxist tradition of South African intellectual life) sees the intellectual expression of solidarity in the expression of social contradictions, and not in their dissimulation.



[1]牋牋牋? The ethnographic passages in the present paper are largely based on my anthropological and historical fieldwork in Zambia and Botswana, with extensions to Zimbabwe and South-Africa, since 1971, for which I owe acknowledgments to: my family; to my African friends and relatives participating in these researches; to the African Studies Centre, Leiden, The Netherlands; the Trust Fund, Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands; the University of Zambia; the Ministry of Lands, Local Government and Housing, Botswana; the University of Durban-Westville, South Africa; the Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa. For the present paper, I am indebted to Pieter Boele van Hensbroek for inviting me to the inspiring conference on ubuntu where an earlier version of the present paper was presented; and, for stimulating discussions, to him, Vernie February, Mogobe Ramose, Marleen Ramsey, Simon Simonse, and the participants in the May 2001 seminar at Groningen University, where an earlier version of this paper was read at the conference on ubuntu, as organised by the Institute for Development Studies, Dutch-Flemish Association for Intercultural Philosophy, and the Netherlands Association for African Studies, 25 May, 2001.

[2]牋牋牋?The earliest publication on ubuntu known to me is: Samkange, S., & Samkange, T.M., 1980, Hunhuism or ubuntuism: A Zimbabwe indigenous political philosophy, Salisbury [ Harare ] : Graham. Further see: Bhengu, M.J., 1996, Ubuntu: The essence of democracy, Cape Town: Novalis; Khanyile, E., 1990, Education, culture and the role of Ubuntu, [ place ] : [ publisher ] ; Khoza, R., 1994. African humanism. Ekhaya Promotions: Diepkloof Extension SA ; Louw, D.J., n.d. [ 1997 ] , 慤buntu: An African assessment of the religious order? ; Makhudu, N., 1993, 慍ultivating a climate of co-operation through ubuntu? Enterprise, 68: 40-41; Mbigi, L., 1992, 慤nhu or Ubuntu: The basis for effective HR management? Peoples Dynamics, October 1992: 20-26; Mbigi, L., 1996, Ubuntu: The African dream in management, Randburg (S.A.): Knowledge Resources, second impression; Mbigi, L., & Maree, J., 1995, Ubuntu: The spirit of African transformation management, Randburg: Knowledge Resources; Prinsloo, E.D., 1996, 慣he Ubuntu style of Participatory Management? in: Malherbe, J.G., ed., Decolonizing the mind: Proceedings of the 2nd colloquium on Afican philosophy held at the University of South Africa, October 1995, Pretoria: Unisa, pp. 112-122; Prinsloo, E.D., 1998, 慤buntu culture and participatory management? in: Coetzee, P.H., & Roux, A.P.J., 1998, eds., The African philosophy reader, London: Routledge, pp. 41-50; Ramose, M.B., 1999, African philosophy through ubuntu, Avondele (Harare): Mond.

[3]牋牋牋?Bleek W., 1851, De nominum generibus linguarum Africae australis, copticae, semiticarum aliarumque sexualium, Ph.D. thesis, Bonn University

[4]牋牋牋?There are indications that the root -ntu, and its semantic field, are not really unique to Bantu languages. In Proto-Austronesian i.e. Malayo-Polynesian languages an essentially similar root, taw, appears with the same meaning 慼uman? cf. Adelaar, S., 1994, 慉sian roots of the Malagasy: A linguistic perspective? paper presented at the congress on Malagasy cultural identity from the Asian perspective, Leiden, 28-29 March 1994, conference meanwhile published by the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden. It is quite possible that we have another cognate, in the Indo-European domain, in the root *endh, 憀ow?憈urned towards the earth? which has been argued to underlie ancient Greek anthropos and Athena; and which incidentally we may also suspect under the Germanic words under / unter / onder. Cf Ode, A.W.M., 1927, 慠eflexe von 憭Tabu拻 und 憭Noa拻 in den Indogermanischen Sprachen? Mededelingen der Koninklijke Akademie van Wetenschappen, afd. Letterkunde, 63, A, 3: 73-100.

[5]牋牋牋?This is the situation among the Nkoya and throughout South Central Africa; cf. Marks, S., 1976, Large mammals and a brave people, Seattle/ London: University of Washington Press.

[6]牋牋牋?van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 2001, 慦itchcraft in modern Africa as virtualised boundary conditions of the kinship order? in : Bond, G.C., & Ciekawy, D.M., eds., Witchcraft dialogues: Anthropological and philosophical exchanges, pp. 212-263, also at:; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1981, Religious Change in Zambia: Exploratory studies, London/Boston: Kegan Paul International, esp. ch. 4.

[7]牋牋牋?Cf. Branford, J., with W. Branford, 1991, A dictionary of South African English, 4th edition, Cape Town: Oxford University Press, reprint of 1st ed. of 1978, p. 208, s.v. munt(u): 慉n offensive mode of reference to a black person.?/font>

[8]牋牋牋?Goethe: 慽dentifications not by blood but by choice?

[9]牋牋牋?Much to my surprise. In line with the general public view of domestic history held in The Netherlands in the second half of the twentieth century CE, I took it that the ancestors of the South African Afrikaanders or Boers parted company with their European brothers in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, then in the nineteenth century changed their language into a version of Dutch that is no longer commonly understood in The Netherlands, and finally in the twentieth century committed crimes against humanity that for the two reasons mentioned no longer deserve to be associated with the ethnonym Dutch, and that the Dutch of The Netherlands could not be held collectively responsible for. But this was a slightly naive and anachronistic view. It did not do justice to the factual, and many-sided, linguistic, intellectual, religious, political and demographic continuity between Afrikaanders and European Dutch until the middle of the twentieth century ?a continuity that was in line with racialist attitudes prevailing in The Netherlands?Asian and South American colonies right until their end. This embarrassing continuity only came to be denied as far as the past is concerned, and to be felt as a source of embarrassment and therefore to be effectively terminated in the present, as a result of critical reflection on the atrocities of apartheid, from the 1960s onwards, when I was only a secondary school and university student.

[10]牋牋?van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1991, 態ecoming a sangoma: Religious anthropological field-work in Francistown, Botswana? Journal of Religion in Africa, 21, 4: 309-344; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1998, 慡angoma in Nederland: Over integriteit in interculturele bemiddeling? in: Elias, M., & Reis, R., eds., Getuigen ondanks zichzelf: Voor Jan-Matthijs Schoffeleers bij zijn zeventigste verjaardag, Maastricht: Shaker, pp. 1-29; English version: 慡angoma in the Netherlands: On integrity in intercultural mediation? both texts at:, and greatly revised version forthcoming in my book Intercultural encounters. The same problematic is also discussed within the wider framework of intercultural philosophy in: van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1999, 慍ulturen bestaan niet? Het onderzoek van interculturaliteit als een openbreken van vanzelfsprekendheden, inaugural lecture, chair of intercultural philosophy, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam: Rotterdamse Filosofische Studies; English version 慍ultures do not exist? Exploding self-evidences in the investigation of interculturality? paper read at the 慡eminar on culture and globalisation? Human Sciences Research Council, Pretoria, 21st April, 1999; revised version forthcoming in Quest ?Philosophical Discussions: An International African Journal of Philosophy; also at

[11]牋牋?Ramose, o.c.

[12]牋牋?Amselle, J.-L., 2001, Branchements: Anthropologie de l抲niversalite des cultures, Paris: Flammarion, p. 109; Obenga, T., 2001, Le sens de la lutte contre l抋frocentrisme eurocentrisme, Gif-sur-Yvette (Cedex)/ Paris: Khepera/ L扝armattan, p. 23; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 2000, 慙e point de vue de Wim van Binsbergen? in: 慉utour d抲n livre. Afrocentrisme, de Stephen Howe, et Afrocentrismes: L抙istoire des Africains entre Egypte et Amerique, de Jean-Pierre chretien [ sic ] , Francois-Xavier Fauvelle-Aymar et Claude-Helene Perrot (dir.), par Mohamed Mbodj, Jean Copans et Wim van Binsbergen? Politique africaine, no. 79, octobre 2000, pp. 175-180; W.M.J. van Binsbergen, 2000, 慏ans le troisieme millenaire avec Black Athena?? in: Fauvelle-Aymar, F.-X., Chretien, J.-P., & Perrot, C.-H., Afrocentrismes: L抙istoire des Africains entre Egypte et Amerique, Paris: Karthala, pp. 127-150; my pieces as cited in this note also at:

[13]牋牋?Cf. Mbeki, G., 1999, 慣owards the African renaissance? in: Hadland, A., & J. Rantao, The life and times of Thabo Mbeki, Rivonia (S.A.): Zebra/Southern/New Holland Struik; Mr Mbeki here allowed himself to be inspired by Afrocentrist ideas first formulated by Diop in one of his first published articles: Diop C. A., 1948, 慟uand pourra-t-on parler d抲ne Renaissance africaine ?? Le Musee vivant, n?36-37, novembre, pp. 57-65; translated in: Diop , C.A., 1996, Towards the African renaissance: Essays in African culture & development 1946-1960, tr. from the French by E.P. Modum, London: Karnak House, pp. 33-45.

[14]牋牋?This again is not a quotation but my own vicarious attempt at making the implied argument explicit.

[15]牋牋?Froidefond, C., 1971, Le mirage egyptien dans la litterature grecque d'Homere a Aristote, Paris: Ophrys.

[16]牋牋?Cf. Bloch, E., 1973, Geist der Utopie, Frankfurt a/M.: Suhrkamp, first published 1923; Buber, M., 1950, Pfade in Utopia, Heidelberg: Schneider; Dahrendorf, R., 1957, Soziale Klassen und Klassenkonflikt in der modernen Gesellschaft, Stuttgart: Enke, ch. entitled 慞fade aus Utopia? Engels, F., 1947, Herr Eugen Duhring抯 revolution in science, Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, first published 1888; Hommes, U., 1973-1974, 慤topie,?in: Krings, H., Baumgartner, H.M., & Wild, C., eds., Handbuch Philosophischer Grundbegriffe, Studienausgabe, Munchen: Kosel, vol. vi, pp. 1571ff ; Mall, R.A., 1995, Philosophie im Vergleich der Kulturen: Interkulturelle Philosophie, eine neue Orientierung, Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft (where the 憀ocalisingly placeless??orthaft ortlos, p. 78 ?plays a central part); Mannheim, K., 1936, Ideology and utopia: An introduction to the sociology of knowledge, New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, originally published as Ideologie und Utopie, Bonn: Cohen, 1929.

[17]牋牋?Prophetism scarcely enters into philosophical discourse. In epistemology it may be occasionally ?e.g. in medieval Jewish philosophy (cf. Rudavsky, T., 2000, 慣he Jewish contribution to medieval philosophical theology? in: Quinn, P.L., & Taliaferro, C., eds., A companion to the philosophy of religion, Malden / Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 95-102, first published 1997, p. 101) ? invoked as a boundary condition for the knowledge and agency attributed to a supreme being. However, cf. Derrida, J., & Vattimo, G., 1996, La religion, Paris/ Rome: Seuil/ Laterza, where Derrida in his contribution does stress messianic and prophetic traits.

[18]牋牋?By its ancient Greek etymology, prophetism consists in 慬officially] speaking on behalf of? It embodies the herald抯 role to which, throughout the Ancient World, special sacredness and sanctuary attached; cf. Kristensen, W.B., 1966, 慏e goddelijke heraut en het woord van God? in his Godsdiensten in de oude wereld, Utrecht/Antwerpen: Spectrum, 2nd ed, pp. 127-148, the first edition was entitled Verzamelde bijdragen tot kennis van de antieke godsdiensten. It is the very act of such representation and mediation that is almost universally recognised as sacred, even regardless of the divine, royal or hieratic nature of party on whose behalf is being spoken. Intercultural philosophers and ethnographers should pay the greatest attention to this cultural formatting of what is, after all, also their own role. Intercultural philosophy and ethnography are, at best, prophetic commitments.

[19]牋牋?For such an approach to prophetism, developed in relation to twentieth century prophets (Mupumani, Tomo Nyirenda alias Mwana Lesa, Alice Lenshina) proclaiming radical transformations of historic African religion in Zambia, cf. my Religious Change, o.c. The underlying philosophical theory would be Marxist, as throughout that book; also cf. Torrance, J., 1995, Karl Marx抯 theory of ideas, Cambridge / Paris: Cambridge University Press / Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l扝omme. In recent philosophy, similar ideas were taken up by Foucault抯 archaeological method, which seeks to identify, as part of a philosophically underpinned history of ideas not without Marxist inspiration, the internal relations between discursive elements without recourse to actors?explicit intentions and representations. Foucault, M., 1969, L扐rcheologie du savoir, Paris: Gallimard, Engl. version The archaeology of knowledge, New York: Harper Torchbooks, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith, 1972. Ironically, Foucault抯 later 慻enealogical? attempt to accommodate change in this perspective, made him stress contingency at the expense of the (Marxist- and structuralist-inspired) structural, systematic and hence repetitive correspondences between society and person on which my view of prophethood depends. Part of the irony is that here he shows himself a die-hard historian, member of a discipline that has always defended, as its hallmark, as 憄roperly historical? an emphasis on contingency in the face of historicising social scientists like myself; another part is that even such a disciplinary sense of esprit de corps has not prevented Foucault from being widely regarded as a great and innovative mind but a bad historian. Also cf. chs 1 and 2 of Religious change, for a further elaboration of this problematic in the context of spirit possession and mediumship, and of the possibility of a macro-sociological theory of religious change.

[20]牋牋?Cf. Kaunda, K., 1966, A Humanist in Africa, London: Longman; Kaunda, K.D., n.d. [1971] , Humanism in Zambia: And a guide to its implementation, Lusaka: Government Printer; Dillon-Malone, C., 1989, Zambian humanism, religion and social morality, Mission Press, Ndola, Zambia; Van Binsbergen, W.M.J., & M.E. Hall, 1972, 慉 seminar on Zambian humanism and modernization? Department of Sociology/ Department of Extramural Studies, University of Zambia, mimeo, 18 pp.

[21]牋牋?Caplan, G. L., 1970, The elites of Barotseland, 1878-1969, London: Hurst.

[22]牋牋?Incidentally, the inclusive principle identified is part of the Southern African normative system at the village level, where for instance every adult has the obligation, but also the right, to guard over the interests of all children, regardless of the specific genealogical ties between adult and child.

[23]牋牋?Cf. Mbeki, G., 1999, 慣owards the African renaissance? in: Hadland, A., & J. Rantao, The life and times of Thabo Mbeki, Rivonia (South Africa): Zebra/ Southern/ New Holland Struik; Mr Mbeki here allowed himself to be inspired by Afrocentrist ideas first formulated by Diop in one of his first published articles: Diop, C.A., 1948, 慟uand pourra-t-on parler d抲ne Renaissance africaine ?? Le Musee vivant, no. 36-37, novembre, pp. 57-65, translated in: Diop, C.A., 1996, Towards the African renaissance: Essays in African culture & development 1946-1960, tr. from the French by E.P. Modum, London: Karnak House, pp. 33-45; the latter book has circulated widely in South Africa.

[24]牋牋?Seminal Afrocentrist writings include (also cf. previous note): Diop, C.A., 1955, Nations negres et culture: de l抋ntiquite negre-egyptienne aux problemes culturels de l'Afrique noire d'aujourd'hui, Paris: Presence Africaine, 2nd ed., first published 1954; Diop C.A., 1959, L抲nite culturelle de l扐frique noire: Domaines du patriarcat et du matriarcat dans I扐ntiquite classique, Paris: Presence africaine; Asante M.K., 1982, 慉frocentricity and Culture? in : Asante, M.K., & Asante, K.W., eds, African culture, Trenton, Africa World Press, pp. 3ff; Asante M.K., 1987, The Afrocentric idea, Philadelphia: Temple University Press; Obenga, T., 1990, La philosophie africaine de la periode pharaonique: 2780-330 avant notre ere, Paris: L扝armattan; Obenga, T., 1995, Cheikh Anta Diop, Volney et le Sphinx: Contribution de Cheikh Anta Diop a l抙istoriographie mondiale, Paris: Presence africaine. For well-documented but largely dismissive critical assessments, cf. Fauvelle, F.-X., 1996, L扐frique de Cheikh Anta Diop, Paris: Karthala; Fauvelle-Aymar, F.-X., Chretien, J.-P., & Perrot, C.-H., 2000, eds., Afrocentrismes: L抙istoire des Africains entre Egypte et Amerique, Paris: Karthala, English tr. in preparation; Howe, S., 1999, Afrocentrism: Mythical pasts and imagined homes, London/ New York: Verso, first published 1998. Also cf. note 12 above.

[25]牋牋?Austin, J.L., 1962, How to do things with words, Oxford: Oxford University Press. For an up-to-date review of this perspective, cf. Avramides, A., 1999, 慖ntention and convention? in: Hale, B., & Wright, C., 1999, eds., A companion to the philosophy of language, Oxford: Blackwell, first published 1997, pp. 60-86, and references cited there.

[26]牋牋?I happen to have other capacities, e.g. as North Atlantic university professor, philosopher, citizen, in which the unconditional identification with ubuntu and Zambian humanism is more problematic.

[27]牋牋?Extensively on this point: my 慍ulturen bestaan niet?/ 慍ultures do not exist, o.c.

[28]牋牋?Like the case I described for the urban sangomas: representing a traditionalising ritual idiom in an urban context which not only is thoroughly globalised and commodified, but whose modern and globalised features also penetrate the very texture of the sangomas?/i> everyday life and ritual practice; cf. van Binsbergen, W.M.J., in the press, 憫We are in this for the money? Commodification and the sangoma cult of Southern Africa? in: Geschiere, P.L., & van Binsbergen, W.M.J., Commodification: Things, agency, and identities (Social Life of Things revisited), Durham: Duke University Press; this paper was read at the conference 慍ommodification and identities? Amsterdam: WOTRO programme 慓lobalization and the construction of communal identities? 12 June, 1999; also at

[29]牋牋?I have expressed this view of Southern African 憈raditional?culture as going underground in a number of articles, e.g. van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1993, 慚aking sense of urban space in Francistown, Botswana? in: P.J.M. Nas, ed., Urban symbolism, Leiden: Brill, Studies in Human Societies, volume 8, pp. 184-228; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1993, 慉frican Independent churches and the state in Botswana? in M. Bax & A. de Koster, eds., Power and prayer: Essays on Religion and politics, CentREPOL-VU Studies 2, Amsterdam: VU University Press, pp. 24-56. The latter article also at:

[30]牋牋?van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1997, 慥erzoening: Perspectieven vanuit de culturele antropologie van Afrika? In de marge: Tijdschrift voor levensbeschouwing en wetenschap, theme issue on 憊erzoening? (reconciliation), 6, 4: 28-39; English version: van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1999, 慠econciliation: A major African social technology of shared and recognised humanity (ubuntu)? paper read at the 慡eminar on culture and globalisation? Human Sciences Research Council, Pretoria, 21st April, 1999, forthcoming in my Intercultural encounters; also

[31]牋牋?The literature on human rights is vast. E.g. cf.: Renteln, A.D., 1985, 慣he unanswered challenge of relativism and the consequences for human rights? in: Human Rights Quarterly 7, iv: 514-540; Scholze, W., 1992, 慔uman rights between universalism and relativism? Quest ?Philosophical Discussions: An International African Journal of Philosophy, 6, i: [ add pages ] ; Meron, T., 1991, Human rights and humanitarian norms as customary law, Oxford: Clarendon Press, paperback reprint of the first 1989 edition; and from a more general philosophical perspective: Monroe, K.R., 1996, The heart of altruism: Perceptions of a common humanity, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

[32]牋牋?Lyotard, J.-F., 1979, La condition postmoderne: Rapport sur le savoir, Paris: Editions de Minuit.

[33]牋牋?Foucault, M., 1963, Naissance de la clinique: Une archeologie du regard medical, Presses Universitaires de France, trans. A. Sheridan: The birth of the clinic: An archaeology of medical perception (New York: Vintage, 1973); Foucault, M., 1975, Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison, Gallimard: Paris, Engl. transl.: Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison, London, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1987. Also cf. L扐rcheologie du savoir, o.c.

[34]牋牋?There is an alternative, however, that has become more and more articulate in the most recent years. In the final quarter of the twentieth century, as a result of a number of factors (the international oil crisis, Khomeyny抯 Iranian revolution, the massive intercontinental migration of Muslims to the North Atlantic, and the demise of international communism), Islam has emerged on a global scale as the main viable alternative, the main challenge, of the North Atlantic claim to cultural, economic, military, technological and spiritual hegemony. The Palestinian conflict, the Gulf War, the attacks on New York and Washington of 11th September 2001, the subsequent Afghanistan war, are among the manifestations of this challenge and counter-challenge. This is the background of the continued rapid expansion of Islam in Africa today ?even though Africans have suffered under Muslim and Christian hands alike in previous centuries.

[35]牋牋?van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 2002, 慉utomatisering en interculturele filosofie: Een Afrikaanse verkenning? in the press in: J. de Mul, ed., Filosofie in cyberspace, [ place ] : [ publisher ] ; English version forthcoming in my: Intercultural encounters; also on:

[36]牋牋?Hobsbawn, E., & Ranger, T.O., 1983, eds, The invention of tradition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[37]牋牋?Given the great geographical mobility of most African social forms, the location of the nineteenth-century ancestral villages is unlikely to coincide narrowly with the villages, if any, of their descendants in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

[38]牋牋?Ranger, T.O., 1983, 慣he invention of tradition in colonial Africa? in: The invention of tradition, o.c. [ add pages ]

[39]牋牋?van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1998, 慓lobalization and virtuality: Analytical problems posed by the contemporary transformation of African societies? in: Meyer, B., & Geschiere, P., eds., Globalization and identity: Dialectics of flow and closure, Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 273-303, also at:; my 慦itchcraft in modern Africa? o.c.

[40]牋牋?Ranger, T.O., 1982, 慠ace and tribe in Southern Africa: European ideas and African acceptance? in: Ross, R., ed., Race and colonialism, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, pp. 121-42; my 慍ulturen bestaan niet?/i>, o.c.

[41]牋牋?My critique of ubuntu amounts to the allegation that academic codifications of local knowledge after a globally circulating format tend to streamline, linealise and rationalise that knowledge almost beyond recognition. The point can be generalised to include the entire industry, so fashionable since the 1980s and so nicely financed by donor organisations and the UNESCO, that concentrates on capturing 慽ndigenous knowledge systems?and brings the product of such capture into global circulation, allegedly in order to save such knowledge from extinction but in fact producing the opposite result.

[42]牋牋?In ways exemplarily studied in the works of such anthropologists of religion as Victor Turner, Jim Fernandez, Richard Werbner, and Renaat Devisch; cf. Turner, V.W., 1967, The forest of symbols: Aspects of Ndembu ritual, Ithaca (N.Y.): Cornell University Press; Turner, V.W., 1968, The drums of affliction: A study of religious processes among the Ndembu of Zambia, London: Oxford University Press; Turner, V.W., 1969, The ritual process, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul; Fernandez, J.W., 1982, Bwiti: An ethnography of the religious imagination in Africa, Princeton: Princeton University Press; Werbner, R.P., 1989, Ritual passage sacred journey: The process and organization of religious movement, Washington/ Manchester: Smithsonian Institution Press/ Manchester University Press; Devisch, R., 1984, Se recreer femme: Manipulation semantique d抲ne situation d抜nfecondite chez les Yaka, Berlin: Reimer; Devisch, R., 1993, Weaving the threads of life: The Khita gyn-eco-logical healing cult among the Yaka, Chicago/ London: Chicago University Press.

[43]牋牋? Pike, K.L., 1954, Language in relation to a unified theory of the structure of human behavior, vol. 1. Glendale: Summer Institute of Linguistics; cf. Headland, T.N., Pike, K.L., & Harris, M., 1990, eds., Emics and etics: The insider/outsider debate, Frontiers of Anthropology no. 7, Newbury Park/ London/ New Delhi: Sage, with an interesting short contribution by one of today抯 most famous philosophers: Quine, W.V., 1990, 慣he phoneme's long shadow? in: Headland c.s., o.c., pp. 164-167. Also cf. the extensive discussion of this pair of concepts in my 慍ulturen bestaan niet? o.c.

[44]牋牋?Mudimbe, V.Y., 1997, Tales of faith: Religion as political performance in Central Africa: Jordan Lectures 1993, London & Atlantic Highlands: Athlone Press; cf. van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 2001, 慉n incomprehensible miracle? Central African clerical intellectualism and African historic religion: A close reading of Valentin Mudimbe抯 Tales of Faith, paper, School of Oriental and African Studies, 1st February 2001, also on:

[45]牋牋?I use this word as an alternative to the worn-out term 憈raditional?(which yet occasionally filters into my prose), and more or less as a synonym of 憄re-colonial? 慳utochthonous? 憄re-globalisation? 憄re-world-religion? What is not meant by 慼istoric? here is: 憈he emic representation of local history?

[46]牋牋?Cf. Eboussi Boulaga, F., 1968, 慙e Bantou Problematique,?Presence Africaine, no. 66, 1968, [ add pages ] ; Eboussi Boulaga, F., 1977, La crise du muntu: Authenticite africaine et philosophie, Paris: Presence africaine; Jahn, J., 1958, Muntu: Umrisse der neoafrikanische Kultur, Dusseldorf/ Koln: Diederichs; Kagame, A., 1955, La philosophie bantu-rwandaise de l'Etre, Bruxelles: Academie royale des Sciences coloniales; Tempels, P., 1955, Bantoe-filosofie, Antwerpen: De Sikkel.

[47]牋牋?Needless to add that this international boycott was otherwise highly beneficial in the sense of conducive to the end of minority rule.

[48]牋牋?For a critique of this notion, cf. my 慍ulturen bestaan niet?/i>, o.c., and references cited there.

[49]牋牋?On the role which some African philosophers attribute to the sage (as distinct from the religious and therapeutic specialist) in African philosophy, cf. Oruka, H.O., 1990, ed., Sage philosophy: Indigenous thinkers and modern debate on African philosophy, Leiden: Brill; for a critical note, cf. my 慍ulturen bestaan niet?/i>.

[50]牋牋?Rasing, T., 1995, Passing on the rites of passage: Girls?initiation rites in the context of an urban Roman Catholic community on the Zambian Copperbelt, Leiden/ London: African Studies Centre/ Avebury; Rasing, T., 2001, The bush burned the stones remain: Women抯 initiation and globalization in Zambia, Ph.D. thesis, Erasmus University Rotterdam; Hamburg/ Muenster: LIT Verlag; my 慥irtuality as a key concept? o.c.; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1987, 慏e schaduw waar je niet overheen mag stappen: Een westers onderzoeker op het Nkoja meisjesfeest? in: van Binsbergen, W.M.J., & Doornbos, M.R., eds., Afrika in spiegelbeeld, Haarlem: In de Knipscheer, pp. 139-182, English version at, and forthcoming in my Intercultural encounters.?

[51]牋牋?This again is not a quotation but my own vicarious attempt at making the implied argument explicit.

[52]牋牋?As previous note.


page last modified: 18-03-02 17:27:08