There is a particular connection between the metaphor of Ubuntu and the ecology of Aspalathus linearis, one of the endemic species popularly known in global markets as rooibos tea.
According to Rhoda Malgas, a lecturer and PhD candidate in the department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology at Stellenbosch University (SU), these two concepts connect through the notion of community, interdependency and the intrinsic value that both the rooibos plant and Ubuntu has in South Africa.
“The notion of Ubuntu has raised many questions – important questions – about the promise that Ubuntu, and other concepts that derive from the lexicon of indigenous cultures, have for conserving and preserving biophysical and bio-cultural heritage in South Africa. While Ubuntu is universal and resonates around the world, there is still much to explore and finding important links between the ecology and communities of many indigenous cultures in the country," Malgas recently said at the first in a series of free web seminars hosted by the Stellenbosch University (SU) Museum and the African Studies Center at Michigan State University (MSU).
Organised under the auspices of the Ubuntu Dialogues Seminar Programme, the seminars take the form of transnational dialogue and intellectual engagement focusing on the meaning of Ubuntu; Pan-Africanism; knowledge and institutional decolonisation, both as concepts and practice within and outside Africa.
The Ubuntu Dialogues project is an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded partnership between SU and MSU that is geared towards establishing new and strengthening existing connections and cooperation between universities, museums and communities.
Unifier Dyer, a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Malgas presented papers on the topic of Ubuntu at the seminar.
Malgas' presentation focused on Ubuntu as Expressed in the Nature of Fynbos. She explored the idea that nature can be observed and studied as an expression of Ubuntu, and spoke about the parallels between the fynbos biome of South African (which is home to 9 500 species of plants, 70% of which occurs nowhere else in the world), and the human condition and societal realities in the country.
Dyer's seminar presentation was on the topic of Ubuntu and Women's Experiences as Epistemology. She focused on contemporary feminists and writers and their concern for self-care practices as a counterpoint to persisting nationalist and patriarchal narratives about women.
Dyer believes that women are often the ones tasked with performing principles of Ubuntu such as hospitality, generosity, forgiveness and caregiving, and yet often remain marginalised in the larger structures of the nation state.
“Although Ubuntu resonates around the world, it is often tied to patriarchal states, nationalism and social humanism. Over the years, many states including South Africa, has used the Ubuntu rhetoric, yet it is usually the women who hold it within their hands," said Dyer.
For more information on the Ubuntu Dialogues and upcoming web seminars, click here.