The afternoon keynote speaker was Rev. Dr. Allan A. Boesak, a South African Dutch Reformed Church cleric, politician and anti-apartheid activist. The topic of Dr. Boesak’s presentation was When Ubuntu Takes Flight, in which he discussed the Ubuntu model of justice and its relationship to reconciliation, specifically in South Africa.
Ubuntu, as described by Dr. Boesak, is the understanding that everyone is human because everyone affirms the humanity of others. This acknowledgement of others is a crucial component to bringing social justice to South Africa. Dr. Boesak said, “Reconciliation is not possible unless it includes social justice, the evaluation of systemic issues (that benefited from Apartheid) and the structural violence that perpetuates violence.”
Restorative justice must include two elements: an apology and changed behavior.
Dr. Boesak admits that the Ubuntu model is flawed. It has been used to focus on sameness, but it has also furthered oppression. Through this model, people of lower economic status have been forced to make sacrifices for the sake of reconciliation; however, dominate classes did not have to make such sacrifices. Additionally, Ubuntu allows for personal forgiveness but not the forgiveness of an entire community.
Despite the problems that have come from the use of the Ubuntu model of justice, Dr. Boesak believes that it is still the best model. Ubuntu allows people to have dignity, to fight for justice and to have a sense of belonging. He said, “In the pure form of Ubuntu, there is no otherness.” Ubuntu has been flawed but it is most similar to the message of the Gospel and social inversion.
Dr. Boesak’s presentation on Ubuntu was uplifting and challenging. It was a great honor to have him at McCormick Theological Seminary to discuss the true meaning of Ubuntu and reconciliation.
The American Theological Society is a regional organization of scholars in the Midwest who write and teach in the fields of religious studies. As an intentionally collegial community, members engage each other’s best theological reflections with a critical mind and generous spirit. Founded in the 1920s, this was the organization’s 170th meeting.