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An African Perspective On International Literacy Day: The Relevance of UBUNTU

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September 8th was proclaimed International Literacy Day by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) on November 17, 1965. International Literacy Day aims to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies. It has been five decades since the proclamation and yet, the objective of declaring an International Literacy Day has not yet been realised in nations across the globe.

A concept which is related to International Literacy Day from a South African perspective is Ubuntu. Literally, Ubuntu is translated as ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’ (http://www.ubuntu.com/).

What does Ubuntu have to do with International Literacy Day?

Ubuntu places emphasis on fostering a strong connection with others in our community, lending a helping hand wherever possible, sharing individual challenges and difficulties, enabling societies to strive for equality, freedom and access to basic human rights.

Another concept which is related to International Literacy Day is Independence. Independence is a complex term which among other definitions, includes the freedom and ability to speak out against human injustices such as civil war, gender violence, gender inequality, xenophobia, terrorism, Islamophobia and human trafficking which in recent times has plagued nations across the world. When viewed in this light, the concept of independence takes on a new meaning.

In order for a person to make a significant difference in eradicating the ignorance from which the above mentioned injustices stem, the support of communities and society at large is required. Society needs to delve deep into their sense of social conscience and make a concerted effort towards paving the way for social and human development.

How are Ubuntu, Independence and International Literacy Day related?

The concept of Ubuntu in African philosophy is one which can be adapted to serve a universal right – access to basic education and literacy. However, in order for this concept to possess any true meaning, it requires a resurgence of unity and rekindling of the human spirit amongst people from all walks of life, to unite in advocating for the rights of nations across the globe. Societies and communities must strive to uphold the basic right to education and literacy. This is the stepping stone for individuals to gain true independence and freedom from all human and social ills.

It needs to be recognised that empowerment of a nation, starts with empowerment of one’s self, in a manner that not only enriches oneself, but has a ripple effect, until empowerment touches the lives of people across the globe. South African Noble Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu once described Ubuntu as ‘the essence of being human’. We should unite now in support of those who continue to lack access to a powerful tool – education and literacy by highlighting the significance of International Literacy Day. Remember, it is not about merely being able to read and write, it is about developing an educated voice.

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