Discovering Ubuntu

Create your library

Sign up or log in to save your favorite stories and lessons, create custom collections, and share with others.

Rosie and Baphumelele

On the outskirts of Capetown, near the international airport, lies the vast township of Khayelitsha, home to over one million people. Rosie Mashele lives and works here, running Baphumelele Children's Home, a place of safety for abandoned, abused, neglected, or orphaned children. Most are infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS.

Rosie's story illustrates how Ubuntu, which she translated as "love and humanity," is practiced in a very harsh and poor environment.

When Rosie, a trained primary school teacher, first moved to Khayelitsha in 1989, she quickly noticed how many children in the community were scavenging for food in the garbage dump next to her shack. She responded by inviting the children into her small home. She took care of them during the day while the children's parents were away, either at work or searching for work.

After the first week, thirty-six children had joined Rosie’s care. Then young children and newborn babies began appearing on her doorstep in the night; they were abandoned by their mothers or families.

Although Rosie was now overwhelmed with running the daycare center and caring for and feeding her own children, she had no choice but to take them in and provide them with a home.

Rosie explained to us that no matter what one's personal situation might be, if you live Ubuntu, you have to help those around you that are in need - it is your duty. "Ubuntu is just a way of life," she said, "You must open your heart and see the need around you, and then just do what you can do to serve that need."

Baphumelele now houses and cares for over 200 children, offers a soup kitchen that is open to anyone, and continues to take in abandoned and abused children in need of help and safety.

Mama Lumka

It took us about five seconds to realize that Mama Lumka was all heart. It was unmistakable, as it was radiating from her eyes, her smile, and her whole being.

Also known as the "wheelbarrow saint," Mama Lumka lives in Nomzamo, another of the many townships in the Capetown area where small, tin shacks and cinder block buildings stretch for miles upon miles. Here, Mama Lumka cares for disabled children, who, like the children Rosie cares for, are often infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. Upon moving to Nomzamo, Mama Lumka, whose severely disabled son had recently died, was shocked to see that many of the other disabled children in the area were left alone; they were locked up in their shacks all day with no care or food and often abused or repeatedly raped.

Compelled to help, she began collecting these children in a wheelbarrow, bringing them back to her home where she cared for them during the day. For many years, she would be seen every morning and evening in the streets pushing a wheelbarrow filled with young children who were unable to walk. Before long she began adopting many of these children and was able to raise enough funds to open a small daycare center. Then she opened a larger home, which can now house more than 50 disabled children.

Walking through the streets of Nomzamo, Mama Lumka told us her story - her experience of her son's death opened her heart to care for others in a way she could never have imagined. Through her tremendous suffering and loss, she realized she could be a mama to others who needed one.

When we asked her about Ubuntu and the role it plays in her life, she laughed and said, "Here in Africa, Ubuntu just is. You live it! You give and you share with your neighbor, or anyone who asks for or needs help."

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge

Far from the homes of Rosie and Mama Lumka, in a small, bare office in the capital's parliament building, we met and interviewed MP Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge. Until August of last year, Nozizwe served as Deputy Minister of Health, but then was dismissed by President Mbeki for her strong disagreement with the government's policies and work with the HIV/AIDS crisis in South Africa.

Nozizwe was extremely humble and she spoke with intelligence, strength, and commitment about resolving conflicts through peaceful action. In a deep and resonant voice, she described how working with the principles of oneness and Ubuntu offered a new way to deal with conflicts and the HIV/AIDS crisis.

She also spoke about the common values shared by people across religious faiths and the need for people in positions of power to work with these values in order to heal the rifts between people, both here in South Africa and around the world.

"Ubuntu is not just for Africans," she said. "It is inside every single human being and has the capacity to bring tremendous change if people can live it."

She stressed that we must not forget traditional values and beliefs like Ubuntu in our modern world. Instead, we should integrate such values into this modern culture, as they are needed now more than ever.

More to Explore

"I am because you are," is the deep meaning of Ubuntu, a traditional African philosophy recognizing the shared essence within humanity and life.
Create your library

Sign up or log in to save your favorite stories and lessons, create custom collections, and share with others.

Making it in America

A Salvadoran immigrant strives to build a future for her family in America after fleeing the Salvadoran Civil War as a teenager.

Create your library

Sign up or log in to save your favorite stories and lessons, create custom collections, and share with others.

Photo Essay
Crossing Borders

These photographs depict refugees as they cross borders on their way to northern Europe.

Create your library

Sign up or log in to save your favorite stories and lessons, create custom collections, and share with others.

Watch Anytime, Anywhere

Watch our films on your phone, tablet, or connected TV.