Opinion Paper

Practices and discourses of ubuntu: Implications for an African model of disability?

Maria Berghs
African Journal of Disability | Vol 6 | a292 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ajod.v6i0.292 | © 2017 Maria Berghs | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 06 June 2016 | Published: 31 January 2017

About the author(s)

Maria Berghs, Private, Belgium


Background: Southern African scholars and activists working in disability studies have argued that ubuntu or unhu is a part of their world view.
Objectives: Thinking seriously about ubuntu, as a shared collective humanness or social ethics, means to examine how Africans have framed a struggle for this shared humanity in terms of decolonisation and activism.
Method: Three examples of applications of ubuntu are given, with two mainly linked to making explicit umaka. Firstly, ubuntu is linked to making visible the invisible inequalities for a common humanity in South Africa. Secondly, it becomes correlated to the expression of environmental justice in West and East African countries.
Results: An African model of disability that encapsulates ubuntu is correlated to how Africans have illustrated a social ethics of a common humanity in their grassroots struggles against oppression and disablement in the 20th century. Ubuntu also locates disability politically within the wider environment and practices of sustainability which are now important to the post-2105 agenda, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the (UN) Sustainable Development Goals linked to climate change.
Conclusion: A different kind of political action linked to social justice seems to be evolving in line with ubuntu. This has implications for the future of disability studies.


ubuntu; disability; decolonisation; activism; Africa


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