The International Society for the Performing Arts has posted an audio stream and a transcription from a recent conference keynote by Dr. John Kani, South African actor, director, and playwright. It runs about 40 minutes, but is well worth a listen as you work. The topic is ”UBUNTU,” an African aphorism with a rich and nuanced meaning:
…how do we explain UBUNTU? ….It does not translate into English. The closest is “Menswaardigheid” which is Afrikaans. It is the value of the human being, it is humaneness, it is kindness, UBUNTU is tolerance, sensitivity, and respect. When you put that together you find UBUNTU as the lifeblood that pumps through your veins and informs the brain to think correctly, to think emotionally correct.
The larger speech is about Kani’s experience with Apartheid and the struggles of his country since Apartheid fell. Fabulous stuff that eventually leads to his views on arts administration and management, where he believes the relative power of administrators has become too strong:
…our struggle now has become convincing accountants, CEO’s, that the work is important. We have to return to the old days when the artistic director was the captain of the ship. We can only do that without making the CEO’s and the CFO’s lose their faith and their respectability, by doing of our work and explaining what UBUNTU means to them. To manage your institutions with sensitivity to the people that expect you to lead them. To be a leader that is actually a server leader.
Kani believes that the spirit of UBUNTU is essential and enduring to his country, and to all people. And, of course, he believes the role of the artist (and the organizations that support and enable artists) is to hold fast to that spirit.
…whatever we do in our daily lives, in our families, we must always remember we’re dealing with human beings. They are in the image of God. They are in your own image. That which is good for you must also be good for them. Productivity yes. Profitability yes. But social responsibility has to be in the center nerve of the work we do.
Good stuff. Give a listen.