Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Active Citizenship

It is slowly dawning on me that the concept “active citizenship” has different connotations in South Africa than it does in Canada.

At the Development Dinner I attended a couple weeks ago, it seemed odd to me that “active citizenship” would be the topic of conversation.  Aren’t there subjects more relevant to “development” that we could discuss?

Then I read the following article that one of the dinner guests sent us yesterday:

When I think of active citizenship, I think of attending community meetings and public consultations.  To me, all citizens should do these basic things to ensure they have input into their communities.  Otherwise, stop complaining!

In the article, however, the author explains that a group called Equal Education campaigned “for two years to get the minister to set minimum norms and standards for schools, arguing that unequal access to quality infrastructure is a core aspect of inequality in education.”

Yes, I also consider lobbying a form of active citizenship, but not one that I would expect most people to undertake.

I realized that I expect the government to provide effective avenues for people to engage with decision makers if they choose to.

Unfortunately, in South Africa, you can’t trust your government to do that.  Instead, you have to fight to make your voice heard.

As a result, active citizenship is intrinsically tied to development here: citizens must be loud and forceful in their demands or else the government simply won’t deliver.


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