Giving and generosity are at the heart of the African identity. Sharing our resources, whether it be money, our skills or our time, is an expression of who we are, which is informed by what we believe in. Ubuntu, botho, biako ye, umunthu…

We believe in the oneness of humanity, and it is this belief that fosters African generosity.

 

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

 

Driven by Ubuntu 

Africa is not a country; it is not a monolith devoid of variety and cultural nuances. Ours is a continent rich in diverse cultures, people, practices and values. While it is true that not all African cultures are the same, there exists commonalities, particularly in our values. Ubuntu is a value that is espoused by most, if not all, African societies. As a people, we are driven by a desire to uplift one another, for we understand that if we are to progress, we need to support one another – this understanding is laconically captured in the African proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

The spirit of Ubuntu is expressed in the following sentence: “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”, which means “a person is a person through other people.” The overall message of Ubuntu is that your humanity is inextricably linked to another’s humanity. While it is a Zulu term, Ubuntu is a pan-African philosophy and concept. As Africans, we share a deep-rooted understanding of the value of social solidarity, community, and interpersonal connectedness.

Giving is a manifestation of this spirit of Ubuntu. We see it in our family get-togethers when we celebrate a marriage or coming of age; there is always a moment dedicated to exchanging gifts, whether it is money, blankets, clothes or words of wisdom. Not only do we give of our resources, but we also give of our time and skills. Women gather in the kitchen to chop the vegetables and men are outside slaughtering the goat – everyone finds their place and does what they need to do for the community. 

 

African Identity Expressed Through Generosity

“The synergetic nature of the African society is what made two or more individuals pool their resources together and uplift each other economically through the system of contributions.” – Bhekinkosi Moyo, South African academic.

The philosophy of Ubuntu underpins our inclination towards giving. Ubuntu informs everything we do in our homes, communities, and even in the workplace. For us, giving isn’t necessarily about being generous or displaying acts of kindness; giving is how we express our identity, it is who we are. We have an innate desire to honour the lives of those around us, and to promote their well-being. In a continent where poverty is rife, giving plays an important role in building communities. A key characteristic that distinguishes Africans from their western counterparts – who place a heavy emphasis on the individual – is our collectivist thinking and practices. We understand that we do not exist in isolation. Consider the brave men and women who fought for our liberation from colonialism and apartheid, how they surrendered to a cause greater than themselves – the freedom of their people. As Africans, we give of ourselves to benefit the collective. It’s not about me, it’s about us.

 

Your humanity is inextricably linked to another’s humanity

 

Amongst African people, there is an understanding and acceptance of the fact that once you become wealthy, your wealth does not belong to you alone. We understand that we have a responsibility to our families and to our communities. One need only consider the concept of black tax to understand the importance of sharing resources in African culture. Yes, black tax is quite a contentious issue, as many young professionals are buckling under the pressure of supporting their families, but the fact that young African professionals feel the need to provide for their families illustrates this innate desire to promote the well-being of others, albeit at times it can be to our own detriment.

 

Are we losing our spirit of generosity?

With so many of our people living in poverty and so many of our leaders betraying our trust, it is easy to become disillusioned with the idea of African generosity. But it is in our communities that we see generosity in play. How many children’s homes are founded and run by elderly women in the townships? Too many to count. Active citizenry is common in many African communities. Ordinary citizens are playing their part in social development. So many of these individuals do not have much themselves, but they sacrifice the little they have to promote the well-being of those around them.

According to the World Giving Index, an annual report collated by the Charities Aid Foundation, Africa is the only continent in which giving has increased. Biz News (2016) noted that “these behaviours, measured over the month prior to canvassing are: helping a stranger, volunteering time, or giving money to a good cause. Measured against a five-year average, Africans were the only people to show an increase in all three areas – for the second year in succession.” South Africa was found to be the 24th most charitable country in the world and the 7th most charitable in Africa. The Charities Aid Foundation report (2017) put it on record that “South Africa experienced a six percentage point increase in its World Giving Index score that was driven by increases across all three giving behaviours. Donating money and volunteering rose by five percentage points whilst helping a stranger saw the largest increase, a seven percentage point increase to 72%”. Kenya is the 3rd most charitable country in the world.

Africa is a continent of givers. Our values of Ubuntu, community and social solidarity inform the manner in which we interact with one another. We don’t always get it right, but generosity is at the core of our identity as Africans.