Persons with disabilities often call on society to see them as people first, instead of seeing their disability first, coin a judgement or opinion about them, and only then bother to acknowledge them as fellow human beings.
Language reflects the social context in which it is developed and used. It, therefore, reflects the values and attitudes of that context and plays an essential role in reinforcing values and attitudes that lead to discrimination and segregation of particular groups in society. Therefore, language can be used as a powerful tool to facilitate change and bring about new values, attitudes, and social integration.
Sacred wisdom encoded in indigenous languages reveals a deep sense of community that drives the seeing of each other as we are: whole, unique and valid. Indigenous languages are practical in their structure, where words express the cosmology of the people.
Could a return to an aboriginal way of looking at life: an exploration of our origins, where value is in universal concepts which bring us together in our human condition, where we are weaved together by a deep sense of interconnection through the collective conscious, assist contemporary South Africa to change the narrative for persons with disabilities by drawing from our African Indigenous Knowledge Systems?
Unlocking the Sacred Wisdom encoded in the ancient Zulu Greeting Sawubona
The presence and awareness of our collective humanity is carried in the ancient Zulu greeting Sawubona – We See You. It speaks of a deep seeing of each other on a holistic level. It signifies an invitation to come together as we see and recognise each other as kin. It is a call to step outside of one’s personal lived experience and bias and really see those you greet without prejudice and preconceptions. It touches on the acceptance of others who may be different. The words we see you also create a feeling of open curiosity and striving to meet each other with compassion, where every point of connecting with another is an opportunity to take in and learn from the other’s being.
Sawubona is an invitation to a deep witnessing and presence. It is an invitation to communicate and explore the possibilities of helping each other. It says we witness your journey. It recognises the worth and dignity of each person. We see you constitutes a soul-to-soul connection, tracing back to the Great Mother from which we all come. When we truly see people, we acknowledge and recognise each other’s hopes and aspirations. If we fail to see someone, there is no possibility of impacting their lives.
We see you (rather than I see you) represents me in my ancestors’ presence and me in my total being and different identities. We see you goes beyond seeing you physically and extends to seeing your experiences, pain, strengths and weaknesses, and future. It’s a way of saying I look at you wholly and not just some parts, that you are important to me, and I see you and accept you as you are.
Saying we see you and accept you as you are encourages us to see each other’s needs, forgive mistakes, cultivate empathy, and ultimately promote unity in our communities. To do this, we can’t approach someone with preconceptions, judgements, and prejudices.
We see you inspires the person who says we see you. But it also empowers the person who hears we see you, leading to greater authenticity and openness in communication. Really being seen is one of the foundations of self-worth and encourages us to express ourselves. We feel validated by people who have seen us and articulated this in our lives. Sawubona enables us to be more authentic, which will make us feel alive.
We see you is a powerful way to start any interaction. It holds the power of removing the awkwardness people without disabilities often experience when greeting persons with disabilities.
Acknowledging our Inter-Connectedness as an Enabler to Thrive “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”
Ubuntu ties our common destiny as people with and without disabilities together through a transformative power of interconnectedness. Inclusivity is what informs ubuntu as a social system and philosophy.
I am because you are reminds us that everyone has a place and purpose under the sun. When we understand ubuntu as my humanity begins by recognising yours, it empowers us to step outside of personal bias and encourages acceptance of self and others. Alone all we can carry is power. United we carry destiny. The ultimate purpose of a communal system is to draw upon the collective consciousness before channelling it to sanctify a world where each person has a place and role, where no one is left behind.
So when we next greet a person with a disability with a Sawubona, let us recall the ancient gravity the greeting holds and see the person we are greeting as an extension of our humanity, as an extension of ourselves; and ourselves as an extension of the person we are greeting.
Gogo Khanyakude is an initiated Sangoma and practising Inyanga since 2014. He serves as a diviner, medium and channel, re-connecting people to their ancestry, genealogy, and identity, which informs their holistic health and wellness.
An ethnomedicine alchemist & Gobela; a person who guides and holds space in the creational process of understanding spiritual emergence and answering the call to initiate in your life purpose.
A Seer (an archive of the knowledge of ancients & antiquity) and as a contemporary offering, he lends his services as an indigenous knowledge systems consultant.
I am a serial social justice and disability rights activist who has worked in rural development, disability inclusion, and public policy-making for the past 30 years.
Born a child of Africa, I fiercely believe in the inter-connectedness between people, in our common humanity, our oneness. The African saying, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” – being self through others – is where I find my centre, balance, and inspiration.
So, although I might not have a disability (yet), I believe that “I am because you are, and we are, therefore, mutually responsible for one another”.
I began my short-lived career as an occupational therapist at Kalafong Hospital in a township just outside Pretoria in 1986, at the height of racial oppression in South Africa. It
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