Hunhu/ubuntu as a system of governance


HUNHU/UBUNTU is literally translated to ‘humaneness or the essence of being human’. 

This system of conduct and social governance remains widespread in Central and Southern Africa. 

Hunhu is also called ubuntu and untu in other Negro-Bantu languages like Zulu and Swahili.

This shows that the hunhu/ubuntu philosophy predates the Bantu migration south from the Great lakes region around Uganda.

Hunhu/ubuntu is in the same category with words like mulungu/murungu (lord), maoko (hands), imbwa (dog), n’ombe (cow), mwedzi (moon) and so on.

These words are found in different Bantu languages, yet carrying identical meanings. 

This proves that, indeed, groups like the Nguni, Nyasa and Swahili, among others, have common roots with the Shona and other related groups.

Hunhu/ubuntu is a way of thinking that is centred on reciprocity.

Simply put, reciprocity is doing unto others as you would want them do unto you. 

Thus, people with hunhu/ubuntu are considerate, benevolent and careful not to offend or insult anyone with their words or actions.

Even not acting or not speaking out could be considered inhuman if it were necessary for one to do so in order to retain peace and order in society.

This is similar to how the Old Testament Israelites were told not to leave a neighbours donkey stranded in a ditch without helping pull it out or at least informing him about it.

Not doing so could be considered inhuman since the same could befall you in the future.

People with hunhu/ubuntu are typically non-violent because they themselves would not enjoy being assaulted.

Why should they hit someone else’s parent, child or sibling when they would never wish for their own mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters or brothers to get hurt.

Owing to hunhu/ubuntu, most Africans were pacifists before the coming of whites. 

Hunhu/ubuntu spread to Asia and was deemed invaluable in belief systems like daoism which flourished in China over 

3 000 years ago.

The Chinese word for human is ‘ren’ and so is the word for humaneness which was also derived from the word human.

Hunhu/ubuntu dictates one’s conduct and influences one’s decision making. 

Though profitable, a person with hunhu/ubuntu might forgo a trade opportunity because the tasks required of him to undertake might render his actions and himself inhuman.

Being called inhumane or ‘munhu asina hunhu’ was, and still is, one of the greatest insults an African could receive.

In olden times, phrases like ‘haabvi kuvanhu’ (he does not come from people) were commonly spoken when people did things that could be considered inhumane.

If humaneness was to be observed contemporarily in the form of government policy, then social ills like poverty, homelessness, prostitution, homosexuality, pornography, child abortions, premarital and extramarital relations, among others, would have little-to-no-chance of thriving.

Essentially, hunhu/ubuntu is godliness because the name itself suggests that the ordained path of mankind is higher than that of animals.

Yet, even animals are restraining from unnatural trends like homosexuality that some humans, particularly Westerners are partaking in.

If African nations were to adopt hunhu/ubuntu as a national governance system, they would closely resemble Islamic republics with Sharia law.

Hunhu/ubuntu ensure that justice prevails. 

This is why ‘sit-downs’ or matare were held. 

They stood to evaluate crimes committed so as to appropriately punish the offender(s), comfort the victim(s) and to teach society right from wrong.

If something was stolen, the thief would be punished and made to compensate the loss threefold. 

This would, hopefully, discourage the culprit(s) and others from stealing anymore.

In the case of a murder, the ‘dare’ would not only reach a verdict of guilty and pass a sentence, it would demand that the murderer’s family pay a heavy fine such as many beasts. 

Failure to do so would incur a blood debt which would be remembered and demanded by the spirit of the deceased, his relatives, the community and God (Mwari).

Hunhu reveres human life more than anything else and deems it sacred.

It complements the biblical hypothesis that humans ought not to be unjustly killed because they are of God’s breath and image.

The blood debt, known as ‘ngozi’ in Shona, is what followed after Cain killed his brother Abel. 

God himself promised to account for all bloodshed and to avenge the deceased in the same way as ‘ngozi’.

The fear of blood debt, which is commonly known to persist even after one pays the deceased’s family with cattle was, and continues to be, the reason Zimbabweans often abstain from killing.

The gentleness we exhibit in the form of warm greetings and choosing to resolve quarrels with words as opposed to fists and weapons are all traits of people with humaneness (vanhu vane hunhu).

Warring and raiding in Southern Africa escalated after the Dutch displaced blacks from the Cape and caused a domino effect of land grabs, called Mfecane, which reached as far as Zimbabwe and Botswana.

Hunhu/ubuntu has since been threatened by white culture and Western systems of governance.

Capitalism upholds resources more than the sanctity of human life. 

A capitalist is satisfied after his/her stomach and pockets are as full as possible. 

By definition, he/she is not concerned about the welfare of the community. 

Efforts to empower others or share after reaching self-actualisation are considered socialistic but would be more appropriate for a people with hunhu/ubuntu as their traditional philosophy.

Democracy puts the will of the people first. 

It does not seek out the ordained way in which mankind ought to conduct itself.  

If the majority of people accept homosexuality, by definition, a democratic nation has to legalise same-sex relations as did Scotland.

This does not auger well for African societies.

Africa has faced the highest form of capitalism called imperialism. 

Neo-slavery and neo-colonialism are still at play.

Breaking away from Western and other foreign traits that do not accommodate our hunhu/ubuntu doctrine is the only way to true sovereignty and independence.

Otherwise, how can we be called free when we are not observing hunhu/ubuntu but instead following the former coloniser and enslaver’s system of governance.

These systems of governance including capitalism, democracy, socialism, communism, Sharia (Islamic) and hunhu/ubuntu, apply to the individual, family, community and nation as a whole.

The way people conduct themselves is determined largely by the system of governance their government has in place.

In a Western democratic system like that of neighbouring South Africa, you find inhumane  things like same sex marriages being practiced.

In a capitalist system, you find wealthy people exploiting the poor.

In a place with Sharia law, you are not likely to find the above mentioned characters and people. 

This is because the law that governs the land forbids sin. 

Thus, if hunhu/ubuntu finds its place in government as a policy, the society is likely to produce humane humans or vanhu/abantu with hunhu/ubuntu.

When Zimbabwe was about to earn its long-deserved independence, a man called Stanlake Samukange wrote a book on Hunhuism.

He suggested to the coming indigenous Government the implementation of hunhu/ubuntu as a system of governance in the stead of capitalism, democracy, socialism and communism.

The task is in unravelling ways to apply hunhu/ubuntu to various fields like law, management, education and trade, among others.

Zimbabwean doctorate level students, such as Wits University’s Richard Chazuza, are undertaking such tasks.

It is our hope that their, and other hunhu/ubuntu proponents’, bodies of work will be seriously considered at Government level so as to come up with a model hunhu/ubuntu republic that can be emulated by other African nations.


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