Challenges to Ubuntu and social cohesion in South Africa

Duvenage, Amy Lisa (2015) Challenges to Ubuntu and social cohesion in South Africa. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


Envisaged as vehicle for social cohesion in post revolutionary South Africa, ubuntu means 'humanness' and 'goodness' ; however, the optimistic post-apartheid discourse of ubuntu contrasts with the bleak post-apartheid fictions. These reflect a social and political landscape that does not live up to the optimistic ideology of the Rainbow Nation. This thesis argues that ubuntu - as a 'return to tradition' - is a problematic narrative of social cohesion because as an innate and essential aspect of African identity, ubuntu risks cultural simplification, it depends on ideas of racial polarization and the homogenisation of black African culture, and it legitimises the implementation of coercive social practices. The major literary texts examined are Zakes Mda's novels 'The heart of redness' (2002) and 'Ways of dying' (1995), Sindiwe Magona's 'Living, loving and lying awake at night' (1991). 'To my children's children' (1991), 'Forced to grow' (1991) and 'Mother to mother' (1998). Kgebetli Moele's 'Room 2017' (2011) and 'The book of the dead' (2009), Phaswanr Mpe's 'Welcome to our hillbrow' (2001), K. Sello Duiker's 'Thirteen cents' (2008) and Kopana Motlwa's 'Coconut' (2007). Each of the four chapters addresses ubuntu in relation to differences that are already embedded in discourses of ubuntu: that is, 'modernity' and 'tradition', gender, rural-urban migration, and the occult. These subject positions are then embedded in wider contemporary debates about a nation in transition: post-apartheid South Africa and where necessary the apartheid past. Ubuntu fails to offer a coherent programme for political change and now functions as a floating or empty signifier.

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