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Ubuntu as Public Policy?

Is South Africa’s foreign policy driven by values or economic interests? On paper, there is no dispute that the country holds foreign policy on values, but in some aspects, the economic interests prevail more than the values. This was according to Prof Chris Landsberg, SARChi Chair in African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the public dialogue on Discourses on Decolonisation: Ubuntu as Public Policy.

Speaking at the University’s School of Tourism and Hospitality (STH) on Thursday, 28 September 2017, Prof Landsberg gave examples of some of the recent political sagas involving foreign state officials. He said that former statesman Nelson Mandela’s efforts in shaping South Africa’s foreign policy on anti-war had contributed immensely to peaceful resolutions of disputes for many countries.

The discussion was based on two presentations by Professor Muxe Nkondo and Professor Peter O Ndege.

Dr Bob Wekesa of Wits Journalism said that Prof Nkondo’s paper on Ubuntu should go beyond politics and economics, adding that Ubuntu should be leveraged in other spheres of social cohesion. “Ubuntu can be extended to larger nations as opposed to criticism that it only works for smaller groups or nations. Let’s look at the launch of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000 as an example of expanding Ubuntu as Public Policy. Both Profs Ndege and Nkondo, in their papers, failed to appreciate the African agency,” said Dr Wekesa.

Attendees also made comments, with Dr Alex Asakitikpi from Monash University mentioning the lack of unity among students as seen on universities’ campuses. “People’s social interactions still seem to be grounded on ‘separation’. You see West African students congregating together separately on campus, white students separating themselves from the other races, Zulus together and Venda students also congregating together separately from others groups: this shows the ambivalence that we have towards Ubuntu. There is still a lot that we need to do to bring people together, and change the ‘constitution of the mind’,” said Dr Asakitikpi.

Also from the floor, Dr Mashupye Kgaphola said that “We need to teach our children about Ubuntu through lived experiences. We have to do more to educate them and the public, not only that but also about our common identity as Africans,” he said.

Dr Kgaphola was making reference to the separation of people that is evident in alleged xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals living in South Africa. Most attendees of the dialogue called for recognition of diversity in the spirit of Ubuntu.

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