By Stephen Weir
A Different Booklist held a different sort of book launch last Monday night that literally had post rush hour Bathurst St motorists stopping dead in the road to gawk. The bookstore and cultural centre was holding a sold-out signing and as a result a hundred people sat unmoving in their chairs seemingly staring out at one of Toronto’s busiest streets.
A Different Booklist doesn’t have curtains, its windows run from sidewalk to ceiling. So, when royalty arrives at the cultural centre, the seated audience ends up ghosting through the windows the cars, the streetcars and pedestrians where Bathurst and Bloor converge.
People stopped and starred back! What they saw was two women sitting in front of a microphone with their backs to the street. The people sitting in the chairs didn’t care about what was going on outside, it was the speakers that had their rigid attention.
Royalty indeed had come to Toronto’s multicultural bookstore (specializing in books from the African & Caribbean Diaspora). Prince Harry and Meghan? No, but they did figure into the evening event.
This was royalty from the Mandela New South Africa days. Nompumelelo ‘Mungi’ Ngomane, the granddaughter of anti-apartheid activist and Noble Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu had just arrived from the airport and was talking with a CBC radio host about Ubuntu.
A year in the writing, Mungi’s book “Everyday Ubuntu: Living Better Together, the African Way”, is now available in Canada. Her hardcover book is an introduction to Ubuntu, the Southern African philosophy that celebrates the universal human bond. It is a personal guide filled with lessons on how to live harmoniously with all people, all the time.
After a round of homemade corn soup, Mungi sat down beside CBC radio host (Fresh Air) Nana aba Duncan, to talk about the book, her life and yes, a little bit about Harry and Meghan.
“Ubuntu is about harmony,” the 27-year author said to Nana aba Duncan. “It gets you from day to day. Every day is a new day.”
According to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who describes this philosophy as the cornerstone of the new South Africa: “A person is a person through other persons. In this way we can utilize the philosophical theory of ‘othering’ to help explain Ubuntu”.
“I didn’t want this book to be about my grandfather, I wanted it to be my words,” she told the audience. There are no pictures of the bishop in the book, however, he did write the introduction to the publication’s 14 lessons (there are 14 statutes in the South African constitution).
When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were in South Africa last September the princess gave a speech that cites Ubuntu. To a wildly cheering crowd “I am here with you, and I am here for you and I thank you so much for showing my husband and I the spirit of Ubuntu.”
When the couple met with Desmund Tutu the next day, they were photographed looking at their copy of Everyday Ubuntu. ‘Mungi’ Ngomane made a point of telling her Toronto audience that it was her aunt not the Bishop who gave the Royal couple the book.
Fast forward to Monday: The Washington Post ran a huge story in the morning, based on a blockbuster news item from last week’s UK Daily News. The feature asks if Ubuntu “might it have influenced Meghan and Prince Harry’s Megxit?”
Mention of Harry and Meghan did get a cheer from the ticketholders, but it was Trump who was talked about at length, and with distain, by Mungi.
As an American citizen currently based in Atlanta it appears that her concern about black rights amidst a changing US political scene is her biggest test in following the Ubuntu lesson of respecting those with whom you agree.
Monday night’s event was the first fundraiser for A Different Booklist’s campaign to build a large cultural centre across the street in the construction site that was once Honest Ed’s. It was a huge success.