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Mamphela Ramphele: Africa Day — a celebration of resilience


On this Africa Day and the last week of Africa month, we celebrate our resilience in the face of the disruptive Covid-19 pandemic. Our resilience stems largely from our youthful population and the continuing embrace of values of ubuntu that enable interdependence, interconnectedness and mutual support that is critical to mitigating the devastation of this virus.

Covid-19 has enabled us to demonstrate our ability to shift from our tendency to be preoccupied with the pursuit of personal success to rally together with empathy and compassion to collaborate in response to this existential crisis.  This change in behaviour towards what really matters for humanity and ecosystem survival is a critical success factor in our response to Covid-19. 

The key question we need to ask ourselves as the people of Africa is what do we need to do differently at a fundamental level to enable us to emerge from this emergency wiser, stronger, and more resilient?  What we do know is that this virus has changed the world as we know it, for good.  There is no going back to “normal”.  Successful regions, countries and communities will be those that seize this moment as an opportunity for fundamental transformation towards more resilient socioeconomic and political systems. 

Resilience is essential to the future that lies ahead of us, given the multilayered crises we are likely to continue to face.  The high human footprint on our planetary system has led to the fragility of most ecosystems and threats to biodiversity that sustains our lives.

Africa needs to take this crisis as an opportunity to reimagine itself as a place that birthed humanity, those many aeons ago, into one that now needs to birth a new human civilisation characterised by prosperity and wellbeing of all people and our planet.  This reimagined Africa needs to set itself new goals and measures reflecting what would matter most in such a new civilisation.

David Korten of Stanford Business School and member of the Club of Rome, in a recently published article as part of the Re-articulation of Human Development Project of the United Nations Development Programme, challenged the notion that humanity’s progress can adequately be measured by the economic goal of growing GDP.  He concludes that: The human future depends on making cultural and institutional choices that align with our needs as living beings, make life, not money, the defining value, and actualise the potential of our human nature and democratic aspirations.  These choices frame an emerging vision of a new and truly civilised civilisation of peace, justice, material sufficiency, and spiritual and creative abundance for all.” 

The vision of this new “truly civilised civilisation” resonates with the social framework guided by ubuntu values that most of my generation were brought up to embrace.  We grew up in communities in which material sufficiency, spiritual and creative abundance for all was ensured through seamless collaborative approaches to common challenges and interdependence enacted in both good and bad times. 

Poor households did not suffer the indignity of humiliating deprivation of basic needs.  Abundance for all was secured through the Letsema/iLima processes that ensured that poor people’s fields were ploughed in return for working alongside their neighbours.  Milk was available to their children in return for helping out in the milking of cows in well-off households.  Education and training opportunities were accessible to all children in community-owned local primary schools, and the better off members contributed to the establishment of bursaries for secondary and higher education, to secure a better future for all.  

President Cyril Ramaphosa needs to look no further than to leverage our rich heritage of ubuntu to create an inclusive new economy characterised by peace, justice, material sufficiency and spiritual and creative abundance for all.   We need to have intergenerational conversations to enable my generation to share the richness of our heritage of cultural values with the younger people.  

We need to discharge our responsibilities to the next generation — “re se ke raya le ditaola badimong [we dare not go to join our ancestors before we impart this knowledge”].   We need to leverage this heritage that has been undervalued and marginalised to create a new eEconomy that promotes wellbeing for all people and protects and promotes our environment — the source of all life.

Africa is well placed to “build back” better by leapfrogging the high human footprint and low human development outcomes that most industrialised countries are struggling to emerge from.  We have an abundance of land, sun, wind, and rivers to power up an ecologically sound development process for the 21st century.  We also have a huge contingent (with an estimated population at close to 200-million) of highly trained Africans in the diaspora to team up with the large youthful population to help with a historic reconstruction and development of Africa into a place of wellbeing for all people and the ecosystem.  

Dr Mamphela Ramphele is the co-founder of ReimagineSA and co-president of the Club of Rome

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Mamphela Ramphele
Mamphela Ramphele is the co-founder of ReimagineSA, a public benefit organisation and nonprofit and co-president of the Club of Rome

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