Considering the philosophy of Ubuntu in South African healthcare ethical practices



Africa, communalism, kinship, ethics, morality, Ubuntu, empathy, relational ontology


The concept of caring for ill people differs considerably depending on the cultural vantage point and lens one uses. The commonly applied healthcare theory in the West is not entirely compatible when viewed within an African cultural context. This article unpacks healthcare and Ubuntu ethics in Africa, and it is abundantly clear that the notion of personhood is critical in an African milieu. Ubuntu is an African indigenous philosophy which includes communalistic moral values in which there is an inherent and pervasive sense of unity between people.1,2 Given that medical ethics are built on internationally accepted principles, its practice should consider patients’ cultural backgrounds. It is the central duty of all healthcare practitioners/providers/workers to ethically use their skills and follow the culture of the community in which they operate.3,4 Patient autonomy must be respected at all times and there is an interdependence and interconnectedness between communities that apply the values of the African Ubuntu worldview. In this worldview, there exists a strong sense of respect for all, dignity of humanity, caring for all, sharing with all, spirituality, inclusivity, transparency, harmony, solidarity, kinship, consensus creation, and above all, showing compassion for all.5-7 After all, a person is only a person through other people. The African concept of Ubuntu can certainly play a key role in promoting suitable virtuous morality and ethics in healthcare because it influences African ways of thinking and also one’s behaviour. This paper has been motivated by the approaches adopted by medical practitioners as brought to light during the COVID-19 pandemic concerning the treatment of patients from diverse cultural backgrounds. Culturally competent care for all patients is required as an ethical imperative.

Author Biography

A Nicolaides, University of Zululand

Department of Philosophy and Applied Ethics, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zululand, South Africa