Last week I came across an interesting article in The Herald by Mr Elliot Ziwira. He was explaining, from an African point of view, why the sanctions on Zimbabwe, which are claimed to be targeted, invariably hurt the innocent.
Putting politics aside, I quite like his description of the African value of community.
“In Africa, we believe in communal ownership of amenities-we share, that is what makes us one… suppose Musumare is targeted, when his wife or children seek salt, matches or maize-meal, should we also deny them . . . should his children be barred from using the bathing pond at Nyakambiri, the dip-tank at Guwati, the playground at Dombodzvuku.”
His words paint for me a picture of a small village in some corner of the vast continent, where people care for one another in a tightly knit community with a strong sense of kinship. I think it reflects to some extent the ubuntu spirit I have long admired in the Africans.
The resonance for me does not come from nowhere. Let me tell you a well-known story in China. About 1 800 years ago in eastern China, there was a literary giant named Kong Rong. As a young boy, he lived in a big family with five elder brothers and one younger brother.
One day the family was happily sharing some pears. Kong Rong was allowed to be the first to pick. Instead of taking the biggest and best, Kong Rong put his hand on the smallest.
“Why didn’t take you take the biggest one?” Asked his father.
“I am younger than my big brothers. The big ones should be saved for them.”
“In that case, you are not the youngest either. Why did you take the smallest?”
“I am older than my little brother. I should give him the better one.”
For centuries, the Chinese have been told this story at a very young age. It could be difficult to find a Chinese who does not know it.
In numerous young hearts, the story entrenches a strong sense of connection with others.
It speaks to the fundamental norm of the Chinese culture: we all live in a community, be it a family, a village, an ethnic group, a company, a nation, or the world.
And as such, we must share. Sometimes, we may also need to surrender our immediate best interests. If you get this oneness in the Chinese mind, you will understand a lot of things that have happened and are happening in China. The first time I learned about Africa’s Ubuntu sprit, I was fascinated by its similarity with my own Chinese upbringing.
I never expected that people thousands of miles away, speaking very different tongues and living very different lives from that of mine, are so philosophically close to my own people. I guess that explains why I have always felt at home in this beautiful country.
While all cultures have their strengths, the world needs a bit more of this sense of togetherness to balance against the stress on individual freedoms that has been dominating our cultural community, because, to cite another ancient Chinese saying, “When things reach an extreme, they can only move in the opposite direction.”