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We have grossly un­der­es­ti­mated the in­vest­ment that needs to be made to en­able us to move out of our com­fort zones, and em­brace our rights and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as cit­i­zens

CityPress - - Voices -

ost-colo­nial Africa has strug­gled to live the dream of democ­racy that so many of its sons and daugh­ters fought, lived and died for. Much of this fail­ure lies in our neglecting the ba­sics of tran­si­tion from op­pres­sive gover­nance to free demo­cratic sys­tems gov­erned by our Con­sti­tu­tion.

That we as Africans – and more specif­i­cally, South Africans – imag­ined that we could make a smooth tran­si­tion from be­ing sub­jects of op­pres­sive in­dige­nous sys­tems of gover­nance, colo­nial con­quest and apartheid to be­com­ing ac­tive cit­i­zens of a con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy was ill-con­ceived.

We have grossly un­der­es­ti­mated the in­vest­ment that needs to be made to en­able us to move out of our com­fort zones, and em­brace our rights and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as cit­i­zens.

This month marks the 20th an­niver­sary of the adop­tion of our Con­sti­tu­tion and the in­au­gu­ra­tion of our first pres­i­dent. Over the past 22 years, we have mud­dled along as a na­tion ven­er­ated for hav­ing cho­sen to rec­on­cile and pro­mote unity in di­ver­sity.

The miss­ing link has been the ac­knowl­edge­ment that such a brave jour­ney would take a will­ing­ness to ac­knowl­edge past wounds and com­mit to a process of heal­ing, which would in­clude a com­mit­ment to so­cioe­co­nomic re­struc­tur­ing and in­vest­ment in pro­grammes of ed­u­ca­tion for democ­racy.

Such pro­grammes would en­able the em­brac­ing of a value sys­tem al­lied to our con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy.

We have paid a heavy price for the ne­glect of civic ed­u­ca­tion in our tran­si­tion to democ­racy. Es­tab­lished democ­ra­cies have un­der­stood the im­por­tance of not only ed­u­cat­ing their cit­i­zens tech­ni­cally, but also in­fus­ing ethics into good cit­i­zen­ship.

Ger­many – af­ter World War 2 and the hor­ror of the Holo­caust – com­mit­ted to ed­u­cat­ing its cit­i­zens never to re­peat the trav­esty of that past. Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries made this an in­te­gral part of their ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, as did the US.

The tragedy in the North­ern Cape in 2013, when chil­dren were de­nied ed­u­ca­tion by their par­ents, who had an axe to grind with un­ac­count­able govern­ment of­fi­cials, comes to mind – as does 2015, when res­i­dents of Mala­mulela in Lim­popo re­fused to be in­te­grated into the Makhado Lo­cal Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, which they re­garded as in­com­pe­tent. They made their dis­trict un­govern­able un­til they se­cured its sep­a­ra­tion.

In 2016, Vuwani’s res­i­dents are adopt­ing the same tac­tics of de­stroy­ing pub­lic prop­erty, in the form of schools, to force the govern­ment to ac­cede to their de­mands.

At the heart of the prob­lem is the peo­ple’s sense of alien­ation from their her­itage. They still see pub­lic prop­erty as govern­ment prop­erty, not their own as cit­i­zens. Un­govern­abil­ity – learnt from the anti-apartheid strug­gle – seems to achieve a lot more than peace­ful protest, in their ex­pe­ri­ence.

This per­cep­tion is strength­ened by the dis­tance that our closed party list sys­tem of pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion has created be­tween the vot­ers and their rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Cit­i­zens feel pow­er­less to in­flu­ence pub­lic pol­icy. Their voices are ig­nored in many in­stances, so vi­o­lence be­comes their weapon.

The Civics Academy, a part­ner­ship led by the Nel­son Man­dela Foun­da­tion and spon­sored by the Hanns Sei­del Foun­da­tion, has pi­loted an open source on­line ed­u­ca­tional pro­gramme ac­ces­si­ble to ev­ery­one to learn about our con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy.

The pro­gramme in­cludes di­a­logue fo­rums tar­get­ing 15- to 25-year-olds – a grow­ing con­stituency – at high school and ter­tiary level, as well as those who have dropped out of the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

The academy can only suc­ceed via part­ner­ships with stake­hold­ers. Govern­ment could use the life ori­en­ta­tion part of the school cur­ricu­lum to get learn­ers to fa­mil­iarise them­selves with the prin­ci­ples and val­ues es­poused by our democ­racy as an in­te­gral part of their per­sonal devel­op­ment as cit­i­zens.

The pri­vate sec­tor also has an obli­ga­tion to en­sure that em­ploy­ees are fa­mil­iar with our con­sti­tu­tional prin­ci­ples. Per­sonal devel­op­ment at all lev­els should em­brace the val­ues of our Con­sti­tu­tion as a foun­da­tion for bet­ter cor­po­rate re­la­tion­ships, team build­ing, good gover­nance and eth­i­cal lead­er­ship.

Trade unions and civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­clud­ing faith-based groups, have much to con­trib­ute to, and ben­e­fit from, a Civics Academy process. With our so­ci­ety be­ing eroded by be­hav­iours at vari­ance with our hu­man rights val­ues, each of these civil so­ci­ety groups should have an in­ter­est in en­hanc­ing their con­stituen­cies’ ca­pac­i­ties to func­tion ef­fec­tively as po­lit­i­cal and moral agents.

South African youth who have en­gaged with the Civics Academy are ex­cited about the chance to re­build the coun­try of their dreams, and are com­mit­ted to work­ing as ac­tive po­lit­i­cal and moral agents to build a just so­ci­ety they can be proud to lead.

We need to broaden its reach to the mil­lions of cit­i­zens des­per­ate for a fu­ture they can be­lieve in. It is up to all of us to mo­bilise the re­sources to link with the Civics Academy and make it an in­te­gral part of our trans­for­ma­tion to a sus­tain­able democ­racy.

We have the re­sources to make civic ed­u­ca­tion a suc­cess. What is needed is po­lit­i­cal will.

We have shown our ca­pac­ity to rise to the oc­ca­sion many times when op­por­tu­nity knocks. This is one such mo­ment. Ramphele is an ac­tive ci­ti­zen

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