Rev. Dr. Wanda Gail Campbell
In 1999, along with approximately 7,000 other people from all corners of the Earth, I attended the Parliament of The World’s Religions in Cape Town, South Africa. Over the 5 days, we were welcomed by many world renowned heavy weight leaders. Most notably among them were Nelson Mandela and The Dalai Lama. Today, I still can recall the electrifying energy of their presence among the immense crowd of world citizens. Beyond words experiences ensued.
Until that December experience I can’t recall ever having heard the word “Ubuntu.” As I contemplated the word’s possible meaning, I began to hear it more and more often. When I would later return home and attempt to express my impression of it to others, words failed. So, I began to just share my experiences with it. Finally, I looked it up so I could reference something more official than my personal experience. Here follows an overview definition from Wikipedia:
Ubuntu (Zulu pronunciation: [ùɓúntʼù]) is a Nguni Bantu term meaning “humanity”. It is often translated as “I am because we are… but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ubuntu_philosophy
I heard the word in many contexts. What I can still vividly recall is walking past an outdoor stage one day and feeling overwhelmingly compelled to stop and pay attention. There I witnessed several young dark skinned women saying Ubuntu with great fervor and passion. I couldn’t understand every word as their stories erupted unusually quickly. It seemed, though, that Ubuntu was repeatedly paired with the phrase“Tell your story and tell the truth!”
I began to more fully understand that South Africa was in the throes of Redemption and Reconciliation as the people transitioned from Apartheid into Democratic Majority Rule under the leadership of Nelson Mandela. The purpose of “telling the truth” was to expunge the wounds caused by centuries of oppressive colonization. By releasing old hatreds, bitterness and resentments they could make space for the emergence of a new spirit of cooperation and collaboration. It has been suggested that Ubuntu “implies that through mutual support the people can help each other to complete themselves” and I would add, to move more wholly into present time and a brighter future.
Thoughts of a bright future dimmed a bit as my heart grew heavy during a tour of a District VI museum. Displayed here were remnants, constructs and artifacts representing the District VI diverse cultures that had once lived harmoniously in close community. Now it had been destroyed by bulldozer except for 3 or 4 now empty churches. It was reported to me that many people who lost their community connections were also left homeless. I heard heartbreaking individual stories of pain and personal loss. Everyone, it seemed, not only recognized the immense task of healing the resulting collective and individual grief, they were also taking action to overcome the after effects. In spite of the pain, they were hopeful of working together to build a better nation. I reflected on how Ubuntu was playing a significant role in the healing process.
Suddenly then, to my delight, I was privileged to witness a group of young Zulus dancing. They had left their homes in remote villages where they lived in straw huts with only dirt floors to come to the city for the first time ever to dance for Parliament attendees. It was an amazing example of how the human spirit can be lifted in simple ways. By contrast, now, my heart was able to soar with joy. My spirit is lifted even now as I view this dynamic picture. May your heart also be blessed by the aliveness and pure joy of the young dancers who reflected undying hope for the very bright future of a healed South Africa. By now, nearly 20 years hence, these dancers are likely leaders in their own right as the spirit of love, hope, and healing becomes a way of life.
All photos used are from the actual event as posted @ https://parliamentofreligions.org/
Wanda Gail Campbell
Wanda has served thirty plus years as a healthcare professional. Currently, she serves as a Minister of Peace ordained by The Beloved Community. In July, 2007 she completed her PhD in Philosophy focused on Intercultural Peacemaking. For her own spiritual nourishment, she enjoys reading both contemporary and ancient spiritual writings.