Letter from the West: UBUNTU

In making the transition from Zimbabwe to Australia one of the first concepts that you come across in most aspects of both business and personal lives is that of a Duty of Care.

This is not dissimilar to “you and me” as identified in Lynne Twist book The Soul of Money. Better perhaps is the African concept of Ubuntu. One internet based definition of a Duty of Care is the “Obligation that a sensible person would use in the circumstances when acting towards others and the public.

If the actions of a person are not made with watchfulness, attention, caution, and prudence, their actions are considered negligent.”

So whether you are lending money or teaching children you have a responsibility to consider the impact of your actions or lack of action upon the other person.

Certainly Australia has more than its fair share of laws which are designed to achieve this purpose: where almost every aspect of your life is controlled by some law or another and a piece of paper is required to ensure that you have covered yourself in case someone wants to sue.

A couple or recent incidents may illustrate. A woman is suing her boyfriend for negligence because she fell some distance from a balcony that had no railings. Unfortunately she impaled herself on a sharp metal spike. At the time she was drunk and attempting to urinate from the balcony!

Her subsequent legal action appears to be an attempt to exonerate herself from the responsibility and consequences of her own drunken behaviour.

Within the last week two elderly people have been found dead in their respective apartments or flats. Nothing unusual except that the woman in New South Wales had been dead for 8 years and the man in Perth dead for 2 years. Bear in mind these were not houses but apartments! Their respective next door neighbours have blamed the relevant authorities for lack of a duty of care!

There is much therefore that could be said for living in Zimbabwe where dependence upon the state to come to your assistance is a waste of time, it has instead taught resilience, courage and best of all a sense of community.

Zimbabwe and Africa have much to teach the rest of the world about community and concern for each other but unfortunately they have not set the right example. Stanlake J. W. T. Samkange (1980) as quoted in Wikipedia has outlined the principles of Ubuntu.

He “highlights the three maxims of Hunhuism or Ubuntuism that shape this philosophy: The first maxim asserts that 'To be human is to affirm one's humanity by recognizing the humanity of others and, on that basis, establish respectful human relations with them.'

And 'the second maxim means that if and when one is faced with a decisive choice between wealth and the preservation of the life of another human being, then one should opt for the preservation of life'. The third 'maxim' as a 'principle deeply embedded in traditional African political philosophy' says 'that the king owed his status, including all the powers associated with it, to the will of the people under him”

Whilst this is not the place to debate the philosophy of these ideas they nevertheless support the concept that governments have a duty of care towards its citizens something sadly lacking in Zimbabwe.

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