Ubuntu/botho culture : a path to improved performance and socio-economic development in post-apartheid SA : beyond rhetoric.
Mapadimeng, Mokong Simon.
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While the debate on the indigenous culture of ubuntu/botho in South Africa (SA) goes far back into the history as signified by Ngubane' s (1963 and 1979) works on the role of the ubuntu values in the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggle; in the last two decades or so, this debate has gathered even much greater momentum. This recent interest in ubuntu/botho culture could be attributed to the imminence of the collapse of apartheid in the late 1980s and the turn of the 1990s, and also the post-apartheid situation in which the SA society came to confront serious socio-economic and political challenges. Those challenges arose from the country's re-admission into the global world, which presented challenges associated with globalisation phenomenon such as the need to achieve economic competitiveness. They also were presented by the newly attained democratic dispensation along which dawned the urgent need to redress the apartheid-created injustices and to work earnestly towards the eradication of the past legacies such as racial inequalities and poverty while seeking to consolidate and jealously defend the still rather fragile democracy. Event much more recently, the debate came to form part of the current continent-wide sentiment that Africa should claim the twenty-first century and that all efforts should be channelled towards the renewal of Africa following the destructions and distortions caused by colonialism. Central to this debate in SA is the widely held belief and claim that the ubuntu/botho cultural values could be mobilised into developmental and transformative force. In particular, a strong claim is made that for SA to achieve competitive advantage in global markets, its development strategies should tap into the values of the ubuntu/botho culture. While few cases are cited as success stories indicative of ubuntu values positive influence on business management strategies in the workplace, often with the assistance of private consultants, these remain isolated and no any serious follow-up studies were conduced in order to assess the sustainability of such interventions. Thus, what is essentially missing in this debate, is a comprehensive indepth, empirically-based study aimed at not only assessing the validity of these widely held claims, but also at examining the objective conditions under which the ubuntu/botho cultural values can help in realising this role. Also critical and missing is the need to possibilities/opportunities and potential constraints to ubuntu/botho culture's ability to fulfil this role. Often these debates lack any serious theoretical basis or comparative references on which to justify their claims. Further, there is seldom any attempt to locate the debate on ubuntu/botho culture in the wider context of the debate and research in the African continent around questions of traditional cultures, thought systems and development and progress. While the present study approaches this debate in such a way that the gaps highlighted addressed through extensive review of literature, it however takes it even further by giving it an empirical content through an in-depth case study of one South African workplace as an illustrative example. This empirically-based approach, coupled with extensive and critical review of the relevant literature, helped to take the debate on ubuntu/botho culture beyond rhetoric which characterises the current dominant thinking within the debate. I argue, on the basis of my overall findings that while evidence gathered supports the case for the need to explore with the ubuntu/botho culture in the economic and business sphere, and in particular at the workplace level, some serious obstacles would and do stand in the way of realising the potentially transformative and developmental role of the culture's values.