Students must change their label as “rock throwers” by becoming active citizens of the country. Students are acting as subjects and not as citizens and the country needs active citizenship now more than ever.
This was the message from Mzwandile Simelane, Secretary General of Citizens South Africa, as a foreword to former minister of finance Trevor Manuel’s speech at the University of Stellenbosch on Wednesday, 19 July.
Manuel addressed students about the role and importance of student participation in active citizenship to ensure a strong society in future.
He called upon students to help develop the country by raising the living standards of each person – not only once, but as a continuous process.
“You cannot just take someone out of a shack and put them in a RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) house and think you have done enough. We have to recognise that the Constitution burdens us with the responsibility to raise the living standards of each citizen to free the potential of each person. It is the responsibility that we and successive generations have,” said Manuel.
South Africa’s Constitution compels the country to act in a particular way, to recall the injustices of the past, and to build a society where effectively all are equal before the law. It is the responsibility of active citizens to consider how to solve a range of problems such as economic inequality and the quality of education in schools. Good citizenship involves active participation in one’s community, helping others and respecting others.
Manuel stated that democracy is not only about elections once in every five years, it is about building dynamic processes that involve people in their everyday lives. “If we give up on that opportunity, we fail to understand what democracy is.”
Manuel made use of the example of IkamvaYouth where students can get involved to help other students in need. IkamvaYouth equips learners from disadvantaged communities with the knowledge, skills and resources to access tertiary education and/or employment opportunities once they matriculate.
“You should place students in direct contact with students in need. It is not only empowering students in need, but also empowering students here (at Stellenbosch) who are involved in the process. Students can play a fundamentally important role in empowering communities and talking through with them what their rights and responsibilities are,” he said.
Throughout his address, Manuel referred to the importance of an active civil society in keeping governmental organisations accountable.
“Corruption in the government does not only raise the cost of public services, it increases the price of electricity and it takes away jobs. As active citizens we must talk about such issues and change it otherwise it denies successive generations success in the country, ” he said.
Citizens South Africa is a non-profit organisation trying to build platforms for engagement and active civic duty. They are creating resource groups to help active citizens work in the areas of education, health, environmental sustainability, youth unemployment and crime prevention. – Martinette Hay