Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ubuntu Kills: Economics for Africans

Aside from being a touchy-feely term for "being nice to one another", what is Ubuntu really?

This was one of the many questions I asked on my exploits in South Africa and one to which I never received a very good reply. The best answers were derived from conversations with two Xhosa men I met at different times in my travels. Both were employed, reasonably well educated for their demographic but not "black diamonds"; both lived in townships, one in a shack and one in a house.

What both had in common was a cynicism towards their own culture. One had a decent job, the result of which was that various relatives frequently turned up out of the woodwork demanding "loans", their attitude being, if you have it you must share it. He expressed frustration that these were only interested in sharing what you have, not what they have, and would otherwise not lift a finger to help with anything, even work that didn't cost them anything to give.

There's a reason "loans" is in quotation marks above. As I learned the hard way, and talked to many other caucasians who had the same experience, for believers in ubuntu, a loan is a misnomer. If you have money to lend, then you don't need it! And if you don't need it, and I do, why should I have to pay it back?

And if I do pay it back, why pay interest? You've got their money back haven't you? Why would you want more??

Such attitudes are borne of the ubuntu mindset, that says what is yours is mine. I heard stories of men giving up jobs because their wives or other relatives had a steady wage. Why should I work when you have a job? And if you have a car, forget about it. Suddenly, everyone needs a free ride. I drove a friend through his township in Cape Town and, turning into his own street, we came across a small crowd gathered around someone who seemed to have fallen over. They waved and I slowed to stop, but my friend warned me to carry on.
"Don't stop", he said, "they have all got cars - they just want to use your petrol".

Some would put this down to laziness but I think it comes from a particular kind of economic thinking. When R.H.Tawney wrote his Religion and the Rise of Capitalism in 1926, he noted how the introduction of piecework affected African productivity; it went down. Workers calculated what they needed for the day, worked enough to cover it, then went home.

As an employer, I noted the same thing occurring 80 years later - staff who had made their money for the day and wanted to skive off. But after having many bemused conversations about money with ethnic Africans, I realised that many of them realised there was no point in accumulating wealth or savings - every spare Rand meant an outstretched hand to fill. Why bother?

So, the drive to save and invest is crushed, dependence and parasitism is rife. Accumulation is impossible. The credit system is a dead duck. What exactly is good about ubuntu?

As far as I can gather, ubuntu, is one of those "other ways" in which Southern African culture is rich. A culture which creates no wealth, has no medicine, science or infrastructure; no makers, only takers, but, in the words of mindless Euro-American do-gooders, they're wonderfully rich in other ways.

Yet it is valued because it is indigenous. Never mind that ubuntu is killing an entire country.

1 Opinion(s):

Bantu Education said...

Its a similar syndrome when a white family employs a domestic or a gardener and, I assume, when a farmer employs black labour. The blacks seem to think they have joined the family so they feel they can take liberties, like "borrowing" stuff.

It also explains why so many gardeners, expecially, after being justifiably fired, later take revenge on the family from which they were cast out.

OT, but disappointed you haven't reported on the Jeanette Odendaal shooting which is a far worse example of police brutality than the black protester who was killed. Lets face it when blacks protest it always gets violent so protesters have got to expect police retaliation.