The first thing I learned when I began to discover myself was that in man just like in every reality there are always two aspects: The mechanical and the engineering aspects. To put it simply one may say that, there are the receiving and the giving aspects in man. This discovery and knowledge came to me at a time when I was battling to determine the relevance of a new religious path I had joined. In that path, everything was depended of its leader including my own life’s experiences. I battled to make sense of this and immediately became rebellious against it. This rebellious attitude forced me to becoming very curious in search for truth until I ultimately discovered the truth that matched my needs.
Indeed, there are two aspects in man, the cause on the one side and effect on the other; the mechanical on the one and engineering aspect on the other. In order for me to receive, someone must give, and that is a fact about life; a fact on which the reality of life is based. Consequently, when I started working to start a non-profit organisation aiming to contribute something to life, the first thing that came to mind was the target market. Who was I going to target for this initiative? Who was I going to serve? The more I researched about needy causes in the country the more I felt overwhelmed.
There are so many needy people out there that I will not alone have the resources to aid them, no matter how much money was put in. I nevertheless decided to choose an area of focus, underprivileged children in Orange Farm, their caregivers and their communities. It made a lot of sense for me to start there as I felt the geographical location, the unemployment rate and other factors considered made a reasonable case to us it as a target area.
The more I tried to set myself up, hoping to partner with local organisations, the more challenging it became. At some point even to distribute second hand clothing became a challenge. I went to a local church aiming to utilise their premises as a base, it wasn’t simply granted. One would imagine that when you want to do something good, God would simply make everything run smooth for you. That certainly wasn’t the case with me and is not correct about life in general. I experienced more challenges trying to setup this organisation than I would have, had it been a profit making business.
But what I gathered from it in the end was that I was going about this the wrong way. I had just discovered a profound truth about the mechanical and engineering aspects of life and getting into this project, I had have experienced it myself. Put differently, there is an aspect of a man’s life that constitute his reality and when people find themselves in certain conditions it is not always a bad thing as we are made to believe. Someone is meant to benefit from that experience. There are undeniably many genuine cases of poverty in the country in the area I had chosen but it is how to resolve these challenges that counts most.
Many organisations exist on the ground with varied objectives, doing wonderful work; work that is certainly beneficial to the communities they serve. And as a result a culture of expectancy is developed; it is entrenched in many minds in that community, either from government or from the charity organisations.
When we place people in a position to become helpless it can in itself produce a problem not only to themselves but to society in general. It creates a culture of blame, and others become responsible for their own failings in life. Life is about balance. It is about rhythm. Life is about giving and taking and when one side becomes more or less participative than the other, it leads to disorder within oneself and without. And so, when in one community people settle for the life of charity, there is very little prospect of growth and expansion in their lives. Development must be tackled from within first before it is extended outside.
To start a charity organisation aimed at helping the poor can become in itself an enormous problem. The Bible tells us that man was created in God’s image and in His likeness, meaning that the creative powers of God are equally in man. This enables him to engineer his own life, his own destiny but for this to happen, he needs to become the master of his own life.
Living for charity creates the slave mentality. It creates the victim mentality. Living for charity creates a lack of responsibility; it produces the attitude of expectancy. We are constantly expecting to be given and when that does not happen, we start to blame others because it is their fault if things do not happen as expected. It is this attitude that makes it easier for people in protest actions to destroy properties. They see no value in them and there no sense of ownership.
The thought of all this led me to reengineering my organisation and confronting the issue of the needy a bit differently. What was needed therefore was an organisation that empowers people to become masters of their own circumstances, masters of their own destiny. In order to achieve this, one had to look at the cause of the current situation.
What makes man remains the experience he has of his life. A child that hasn’t been burned by fire will gain no knowledge of the danger that it poses. Nature teaches us that we can either learn from other people’s experiences or from our own. What people go through in their quotidian lives is not meant to destroy them. It teaches them something about themselves, with poverty and other social ills included in the experiences that they have to go through. After all it is only because of darkness that light is relevant. Without some of those experiences life would be flat and dull for many.
In trying to provide relief to the needy, many factors are to be taken into account including the necessary personal experiences that man must go through for his own growth. After all there is a purpose in every experience of life. To approach and take someone out of a necessary experience causes more harm than good.
Every so often the lesson in the experience is that one needs to learn to vary the angle from whence one constantly perceives things, to have a more unobstructed view. But this movement from one angle to the next does not happen naturally, it has to be forced upon us sometimes. That is why a thorough analysis of the conditions that lead people into poverty is always needed before starting a project such as this one.
There are indisputably enough resources in this country to deal with poverty but people need to feel a part of the team. They need to be made to be a part of the package of resources needed to address issues of poverty. The best way of doing this is by helping them to rediscover themselves. They need to rediscover their roots, their own beings as people created in the likeness of God. The cognisance of this makes a considerable difference.
African people are spiritual people, naturally. They are very spiritually active and what this means is that their actions produce a more immediate effect on their environment than others and particularly westerners. What this means also, is that when dealing with Africans care has to be taken not to hurt their inner core. The moment the inner core is affected, the rest of the being becomes problematic; it becomes conflicted. It is this conflict that extends to our surroundings. For an African man, conflicts are not created from without, they start from within and that is a fact.
Remedying problems affecting the lives of African people needs to start from within their beings. Who else can comprehend this fact better than an African? The experience of the past, in the Apartheid regime certainly contributed in damaging the being of the man in this land, to the point where he lost his sense of identity. To put it simply, many of us in this land do not recognize who we truly are. With the forced displacement that took place in this country, many are not quite sure of their true identity and even when they claim to be this or that, there is nothing to prove it to them.
How does one begin to assist people so deeply rooted in this life? How does one begin to support people whose sense of belonging, whose sense of identity has been so badly bruised? How does one begin to aid people who have derived comfort in merely expecting without the desire to contribute? How does one begin to help people who foster the culture of violence? How does one begin to help people who justify the life of a victim?
In mathematics we learn that two negatives do not lead to a positive, they merely increase the negative. Getting into this type of venture, care must be taken not to worsen the situation. An orphan whose only hope of survival is the community he lives in, is a genuine case. A disabled child whose parents cannot afford the day to day expenses connected with his condition is a genuine case, and there are many other genuine cases that warrant the intervention of charity organisations. But the problem is not in the intervention; the problem is in the type of intervention that is supplied.
A person whose sense of identity is bruised need more than food, he needs more than just shelter. The sad reality is that many of the communities in which intervention is needed are characterised by violence and all kinds of social ills and that is a sign deep rooted issues that demand a totally different remedy to tackle. The amount of violence prevalent in these communities is a sign of the intolerant nature of the society we live in; a society that has come short on love, tolerance and forgiveness.
Prior to the advent of the settlers on the continent, there was a principle that connected every African man living on this land, something that is more like a spirit, the proof of the spirituality of the man of Africa. And that is the spirit of Ubuntu, simply translated as “I am because you are.”What this Ubuntu also means to me is, “I am not you are”, a very mystical saying that makes man see himself in other. And when you see yourself in the other, you do nothing to the other than you would not do to yourself. In the Ubuntu philosophy one begins to see himself more and more in his fellowman and when that is achieved, love, tolerance and forgiveness that we need so much currently become part of the quotidian life. No wonder man lived peacefully with his surroundings, his neighbours back then because his life was directed by this divine principle.
The foundation for charity in African soil, therefore, has to be laid with the identity of man in mind and the spirit of Ubuntu as a base. This philosophy of Ubuntu is what gives man the strength and courage to face life and all its challenges. This is what activates the engineering part of his being, allowing him to be more of a master than a slave of his circumstances. After all that is what we require to overcome the challenges we are beset with in society today.
A man living by the principles of Ubuntu is an inspired man. He is creative in every aspect of his life and will never be overwhelmed by life’s challenges. This man knows that in him it is not him who lives but God, the source of all that exists, even those we consider evil.
I am Emmanuel. Nkosinathi. God with us.