The importance of active citizens

By Simangazo Mokale

Since the dawn of democracy in 1994, our country has called on citizens to make a difference within their communities and to help build a new nation. This is line with our constitution that marked the departure from our past where the majority of people were denied an opportunity to play a role in building a country that was inclusive.  

The call is also in line with the National Development Plan that encourages all South Africans to contribute and work towards realising the vision of a cohesive society. It envisions active citizens who will speak out when there are challenges and highlights the importance of citizen participation in building the society we all want.

Our democracy provides room for active citizens to engage, to critique and to assist in addressing challenges.  As we approach the milestone of 30 years of freedom, we will no doubt reflect on our journey.

We are citizens of a common land, bound by the love for our flag and our anthem.  While it is true that we have had various starting points and indeed varying challenges, we remain bound by a common destiny. 

As South Africans, we have a duty to actively engage in shaping the country we want to live in.  As citizens, we can help to build the South Africa we want by making our voices heard on laws and policies or issues that impact our communities. 

Our voices are our power and this power is entrenched in the right to vote. Voting puts the power in your hands and allows citizens to use their voice to bring about change. Active citizenry requires that we take action to change or improve our lives and that of our communities. Our democracy is based on the will of the people and in 2024; all eligible voters will once again have their say in the continued success of our democracy.

However, voting is not the only role of an active citizen. As citizens, we must ensure that those who hold public office are held to account. We are enabled to do so by our Constitution, which is not just a piece of paper, but a powerful tool for ensuring that citizens are empowered to both build and safeguard our democracy.

The importance of the Constitution was echoed by President Cyril Ramaphosa during his Human Rights Day address in 2022.  “My message to all South Africans today is that the Constitution is not a mere piece of paper. It is a document that empowers you.  As much as it places responsibilities on the State, the Constitution also confers duties of citizenship.”

These words are a powerful reminder that as citizens we need to exercise our constitutional duty in order to improve our lives and better our society. In order to build the South Africa we want we must make our voices heard, and we must take action within our communities and spheres of influence.

We can do so by ensuring that our actions help in building a country that can nurture the needs, dreams and aspirations of all people. An example of this is Samuel Simelane, the founder of Khehla Lami, a cleaning supply business that provides products at affordable prices for students and households.

Samuel is one of the young people who took part in the Brand South Africa, Play Your Part Ignite Programme, which is an initiative to inspire, empower and encourage entrepreneurial spirit.

This is one of many examples that demonstrate that by playing our part as active citizens, we can each grow South Africa into a competitive nation whose growth and development is sustainable and enduring.

South Africans who also want to be active can play their part by participating in government initiatives such as the food security and greening campaign. This campaign is aimed at uniting South Africans to address issues of poverty and hunger as well as contribute to tackling climate change.

Without active citizenry, we would not be able to build on the gains we have made since the dawn of democracy. We call on citizens to help us build a country that was envisioned by our founding fathers and help improve the lives of people.