Ethics and the African community : a study of communal ethics in the moral practice and thought of Basotho.
Mokolatsie, Christopher Ntlatlapa.
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Contemporary sentiments both African and Western indicate the inadequacy of modern approaches to ethics and the failure of an individualistic ethics as a basis for public and private morality. Modern ethics is inadequate as a moral framework within which communities live their lives. As a result there is a need for a paradigm shift form this mainly individualistic and universalistic modern ways of doings ethics to a more communally oriented and contextual approach reminiscent of traditional African ethics. If we hope to have a more satisfactory moral framework than the current one we need to have a moral outlook that encompasses both the ethical code governing the individual i.e. personal ethics and the ethical code governing social groups and their conduct. And that framework will be something similar to the communal model that we see in traditional African communities such as the Basotho's. Such a moral framework made it possible for communities not only to be contextual in the way they approached personal conduct, but also communal. The current moral uncertainty accompanied by vicious moral individualism in places like Lesotho, seems to me to be the result of the introduction of an individualistic ethic to the Basotho way of life. Ethics as found among traditional Basotho communities was not just a matter of the individual alone, but also of the community within which the individual found his or her true identity. This co-responsibility and mutual inter-dependency for the moral life, something which modernism and the influence of liberal ideas is increasingly eroding from the contemporary life of Basotho, ensured that there was a moral centre through which people found their moral reference point. It ensured there was a moral thought and practice that was coherent enough to give both the individual and the community a moral base, an approved way of conduct with an implicit, but nevertheless clearly understandable rationale and justification. Such a communal approach to ethics made it possible for communities to have a recognizable moral character and it is only when communities are themselves moral that we can hope to have a moral society. So in order to help contemporary Basotho and indeed most Africans, from the pervasive self imposed moral bankruptcy and inconsistencies there is a need to revisit and rediscover that traditional ethos to see what lessons can be learned from it for the present. We need to look back to where we come from as Africans and only then are we going to be able to navigate our future correctly and authentically, and see what lessons of life and proper ways of conduct can we learn from our past, lessons which will be more in line with who we are as Africans in the context of contemporary modern way of living.