Skip to content

September 18, 2013

Indaba – A Southern African Concept

by Admin

In November 2009 Canon Phil Groves consulted with a group of Church leaders and theologians in order to gain a fuller concept of Indaba.  I was deeply touched when, after long discussions, he just sat down and, in a hopeless manner said, “please I need your help.”  That night when I did my night prayers it came to me that I need to help him and the rest of the group on what I personally believe as an African concerning Indaba.  This is the reflection I gave to answer Phil’s request and for the rest of the group.

Indaba and Ubuntu concepts are part of a philosophy or system that is working in Africa. These concepts seem to be universal models, though they are called in different ways in different contexts in Africa.  For example the concept Indaba is a Zulu notion and it is called Imbizo in Xhosa — having the same meaning.

According to Prof. Mtuze, Imbizo is a traditional meeting or gathering, called by a chief or headman, for listening to the news or concerns that affect individuals or community, and to discuss matters of common interest, e.g. to inform the community of rising levels of crime in the neighbourhood, or to inform them about the chief’s son’s impending marriage, for which they have to make “lobola” contributions.  Women in traditional society are excluded from Imbizo, except those who are directly affected.  Only female regents and chiefs are allowed to attend.  These concepts work easily and are understood in their indigenous backgrounds and communal systems.  There is also a modern equivalent called Intlanganiso which is a councillors meeting.  Everyone is allowed to attend.  This does not mean that Intlanganiso can take the place of Imbizo.  We can, however, use the term of Imbizo, in spite of its traditional or cultural baggage, to refer to a modern get together.

Prof Mtuze, in his book Introduction To Xhosa Culture, suggests that Ubuntu has wholeness as one of its pillars.  It has foundations in a culture that regards life as a seamless garment that is so great and inclusive that there is no effective difference between the Spiritual and the Natural. (1991:108)

Prof. Mtuze argues further that in this kind of existence, one person’s personhood and identity is fulfilled and complemented by another person’s personhood.  Each person is because the other person is (1991:108).  He believes that Ubuntu, or Botho in Sotho, is like the English personhood, an abstract term; it manifests itself through various visible human acts in different social situations.

He believes that Ubuntu is manifested in every human act which has community building as its objective or orientation.  Any act that destroys the community, any anti-social behaviour, cannot in any way be described as Ubuntu. (1991:108)

He argues further that community building is one of the many spinoffs or faces of Ubuntu.  He believes that Ubuntu should not be confused with generosity (ububele) and philanthropy.  It is something deeper than those activities as good as they are.  It involves sharing yourself, your humanity, with the other person first, and then the rest will follow suit.  One can see that there is a sense in which the primary purpose is person-building, which will automatically dovetail into community building. (1991:108)

On the practical manifestation of Ubuntu, Prof Mtuze shares the following:

  • The philosophy of Ubuntu manifests itself in the lives of the people.  It is not merely a theory, but a way of life.  The Chief is expected to practice Ubuntu in his or her governance.  He or she has to care for his or her subjects, show compassion for their plight, address their needs and feed them during times of starvation.  Many Chiefs lost their positions purely because they lacked Ubuntu.
  • When the head of a household had finished tilling his own fields, he would order his helpers to go and plough the destitute neighbours’ and widows’ in his vicinity, thereby showing Ubuntu to the less privileged.
  • A stranger knew very well that if he or she broke his or her journey and sought shelter from one or other homestead along his way, he or she would not be turned away.  He or she would be welcomed warmly and given hospitality for a number of days, until he or she was ready to resume his or her journey.
  • Those who are well-to-do offer at least one head of cattle to the poor members of the community, normally a cow, to milk and provide for their children until it had given birth to a calf.  They could keep the calf when the original owner fetched the inqoma( borrowed cow).  He could not fetch it until it had given birth to a calf and the calf had grown up to reach calving stage.
  • Ubuntu ensured egalitarian treatment of all people in society.  It was a guiding principle in all efforts aimed at strengthening each person in society, so that he or she could take his or her place as a proud and productive member of society. (1991: 109-110)

In a nutshell, one can understand that Ubuntu in a communal system is lived out by people who say, “I exist because you are, your pain is my pain, your loss is my loss”.  If a person dies having nobody to bury him or her, then the community takes responsibility to bury that person.  Therefore, persons who are born and lived in a context where these concepts (i.e. Ubuntu, Indaba, Imbizo) are lived have no problem about them at all, but I think those who have not lived or not been part of the practice of these concepts will be lost and in a situation where one does not understand their “value”, “worth” and their “assistance” and one cannot blame them.

My proposal is that these concepts are not absolute; we can learn from other concepts, from other cultures, that will be of assistance in the model of conversation.  Let us adopt Indaba as a model of dialogue in the Anglican Communion with further research about it in the knowledge that it has been tested and worked at the Lambeth Conference of 2008.  Let it be used in a context of spirituality, in what holds our Anglican Communion together, e.g., Scripture, worship, Anglican Communion and God’s mission.  These are the ingredients that hold us together in the divinity and humanity of Christ.

And lastly, let us adopt the cluster model to enable the selected Dioceses of the Anglican Communion, that they might share their concerns using the concept of Indaba in their dialogue.  I hope that this model will help them to achieve a deeper understanding of their lives and the challenges that they are facing, and start to journey together, overcoming those challenges in doing God’s mission, and to influence the whole of the Anglican Communion.

In conclusion, the Indaba concept, as a system for dialogue, is used in a forum in which people would share their concerns either in an institution, church, government, chiefdoms or any other group of people that want to listen and share their concerns.  Secondly, it can be used by a group of women, or a male group, or youth groups or inclusive of male and females to share their concerns together especially in a political forum.

We pray that God may pour his Grace on us in the Anglican Communion, to continue our dialogue and find our common ground in the divinity and the humanity of Christ which is God’s love.  We hope, Phil, this little contribution will be of help in your search as we look together in the continuation of the of Indaba process.


Mtuze, P. T. Introduction to Xhosa Culture. Alice, South Africa: Lovedale Press, 2004.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: