Panellists discuss ‘women as agents of ubuntu’ at UP-hosted Women’s Month webinar

Posted on September 07, 2020

Inspirational stories of resilience and community support during the national lockdown as a result of COVID-19 was in the spotlight during a recent virtual webinar. ‘Women as Agents of Ubuntu Philosophy During the COVID-19 Pandemic’. The webinar was hosted by the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Faculty of Health Sciences and the National Research Foundation.

Lockdown has brought with it food insecurity, poverty, homelessness, gender-based violence as well as other forms of abuse of women and children. “The philosophy of ubuntu means a person is a person through others,” said the moderator of the webinar, Professor Fhumulani Mavis Mulaudzi, a professor of Nursing at UP and holder of the South African Research Chair Initiative in Ubuntu Community Model of Nursing. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen how ubuntu was implemented in societies and how women were involved.”

Tina Power, an attorney of the High Court of South Africa and member of Legal Practice South Africa, pointed out that freedom of expression is at the heart of a democracy – that refers to both online and offline activities. The move to more regular online usage during lockdown revealed the digital divide between men and women. “Access to the internet became a lifeline not a luxury,” she said. This became a significant challenge in accessing healthcare information and educational material.

“Women found novel ways,” added Power. “Ubuntu can be realised online or offline with the Tupperware text.” This entailed those who were experiencing abuse appealing for help by sending a text to a family or community member saying that she would like to return her Tupperware. “This demonstrated the creative way in which women support one another in a crisis,” said Power.

“Ubuntu is a cultural, political and religious concept,” added Professor Olga Makhubela-Nkondo of Unisa. She highlighted the power of women’s co-operatives, where those in the most deprived communities are able to gather resources to empower one another in terms of literacy, childbearing and strengthening infrastructure.

Mpho Selina Maringa, who, along with her family, was infected with COVID-19, spoke of the experience during the webinar. “Breaking the news to our extended family was challenging,” said Maringa, who works at the Department of Employment and Labour in Limpopo. “We had to do video calls so people could see that we were fine.” People displayed their humanity to her family, she said. The local pastor would pray over the phone and one woman brought them food. “There was a dedicated professional nurse who would do her rounds three times a day, while our family doctor was also helpful.”

The pandemic brought fear and anxiety into their lives: Maringa could see the pain on her husband’s face and would dream of coffins in her sleep. “Everything happens for a reason. Deep down, I knew the virus had attacked my family for a purpose. It made me the brave woman that I am today.”

While there is no vaccine just yet, “the vaccine we have seen is the love and care that our community and family shared with us”, said Maringa. “You cannot fight the pandemic alone. Love, care, support and prayer give people the courage and faith to fight the pandemic.”

“It takes a village to raise a child,” said Dr Moselene du Plessis, a specialist in nursing leadership and management, and a lecturer at UP. Retired nurses and community activists came together in Eersterust in Pretoria, where a “war room” was set up to strategise on how to help the community. A multisectoral level approach was needed. Children were hungry as feeding schemes were not operational due to job losses. “You cannot go to bed knowing that people are struggling,” she said.

With the help of non-governmental organisations, they managed to feed the children; in addition, Dr Du Plessis appealed to the public to donate baby scales to weigh the babies who were being fed.

Professor Roinah Nkhensani Ngunyulu of UP also revealed how pregnant women were affected by transport issues during lockdown, making access to clinics a challenge. Midwives were guardian angels as they comforted pregnant women who were in labour as their partners were not allowed to be with them, she said. It was challenging for these women to wear masks while in labour and social distancing was difficult to observe.   

Prof Mulaudzi concluded that ubuntu is part of the global village. “If we really embrace this philosophy, the moral decay will improve,” she said. “People will no longer be self-centred.” If people win government tenders, it must be the community’s tender, she added. “Improve the community – individualism is ‘unAfrican’.”

- Author Prim Gower

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