Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ubuntu and Mutuality in Post-Apartheid South African Leadership

I recently received word that our proposal on African Leadership has been accepted for the International Leadership Association's (ILA) Annual Conference in Chicago (November 2-5, 2006.) :

I will be presenting a paper entitled: "Ubuntu and Mutuality in Post-Apartheid South African Leadership." Here is a short introduction to the main premise of the paper:

Recent studies in Southern Africa have highlighted the desperate need for indigenous, innovative, values-based leadership approaches in South Africa that will mobilize a wide variety of participants around the common goal of reconstructing a society ravished by racial discrimination, disease prevalence, economic injustices, corruption, crime and leadership failure. This new, emerging, post-industrial paradigm of leadership has helped South Africans to start to think of leadership as something that is done in community in stead of the acts of one privileged individual. This paradigm shift from extreme individualism to perspectives in communal leadership is a global phenomenon and is contrasted with the individualistic, competitive leadership approaches of the Apartheid Regime. This shift to values-based leadership approached is mostly marked by communal presence, trust, dialogue and mutuality.

The South African Nguni word ubuntu, from the aphorism; “Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu – A person is a person because/through others”; can be described as the capacity in African culture to express compassion, reciprocity, dignity, humanity and mutuality in the interest of building and maintaining communities with justice and mutual caring. More than a descriptor of African values, ubuntu should be seen as a social philosophy that is deeply embedded in African culture and the primary foundation of an African worldview.

Ubuntu, seen in the spirit of participatory humanism, has the power to effect a revitalized commitment in South Africans to the rebuilding of their communities. The value and practice of mutuality in ubuntu is defined paradoxically by the differences found in the “other”. Accommodation and respect for the differences in the “other” flows from a recognition of the common humanity of the “self” and the “other”. Mutuality in ubuntu allows for the breaking down of the superficial and artificial barriers between the “actors” in the leadership exchange and allows both leader and follower to see the “other”, discover their mutual humanity and in doing so foster the construction of a caring community that allows for the respectful tolerance of social, cultural, economic and philosophical differences.

The aim of this presentation is to explore the value of mutuality in the African, social philosophy of ubuntu within the matrix of emerging values-based leadership approaches. The cultural and social concepts of ubuntu are rich in definition and implication, and in the light of the constraints of this brief study, the focus is firmly placed on the common value of mutuality and so provide a conceptual platform so as to consider what this might mean for contemporary, Post-Apartheid, South African leadership.