THE ESSENCE OF BEING HUMAN
You hear it, you do it too, and you come running. That is the threat-to-safety response system said to have been employed by the people who live in the remote mountain regions of Rwanda where there were no Police. That according to Philip Gourevitch in his first book on Rwanda, ‘We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families’.
Anyone who is in trouble makes a loud and distinct cry for help and the rule is: You hear it, you do it too, and you come running. After the threat has been dealt with (in Gourevitch’s account, a man had been trying to rape a woman), a form of register-of-attendance is then taken. The one found to have stayed away from dealing with the threat-to-safety has to give account or else he will be taken to have been in league with the criminals. The all encompassing rebuke to the absentee is summed up in the question: What do you expect the community to do the day that you yourself cry out for help?
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out,
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out,
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out,
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.”
— Martin Niemöller
The rule that the mountain dwellers live by sounds very much like what the English call The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you. We are one humanity.
If you refuse to take action in response to the cry of a human being, you lack the essence of being human – you are not a human being in the true sense of the word – you cannot call yourself a human being.
You hear it, you do it too, and you come running.
What the Nguni language-speakers call Ubuntu, is called Unhu in ChiShona.
The Shona word for Human Being is munhu. Unhu lies at the root of the word munhu which makes for a clear explanation of what unhu is: Unhu is the essence of being human.
The below text is copied and adapted from Tim Murithi’s contribution to the Human Rights Source Book ‘The Essentials of Human Rights‘ ISBN 978 0340 815748 edited by Rhona K.M. Smith and Christien van den Anker and published by Hodder Arnold in 2005. (See pages 341-342. Section entitled Ubuntu and Human Rights)
Unhu is summed up in the statement: I am because we are. It means that my humanity is caught up, and is inextricably bound up, with that of the next person.
Unhu is a code of ethics that tries to capture the essence of what it means to be human.
Unhu hinges on the principles of reciprocity, inclusivity and a sense of shared destiny between peoples.
Unhu is about protecting, promoting and preserving the dignity of all people because what we do to others also impacts upon ourselves.
Unhu encourages the sharing of resources and cooperation in the resolution of our disputes.
I am human because I belong, I participate, I share.
A healthy community at peace with itself can only be built if the human dignity of all its members is safeguarded.
Some unhu values are: hospitality, generosity, respect for all members of the community. Unhu embraces the view that we all belong to one human family.
No greater compliment can be given one than to say “Ane unhu”(this person is a good example of a human being). “Ane unhu” means that the person is hospitable, generous, friendly, caring, and compassionate and willing to share what he or she has.
A person with unhu is open and available to others, affirming of others, and does not feel threatened by the ability and goodness of others; for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes with knowing that he or she belongs, and is part of a greater whole.
Unhu emphasises the essential unity of humanity: I am because we are.
I will conclude by repeating my earlier statement: A healthy community at peace with itself can only be built if the human dignity of all its members is safeguarded.