From clients to citizens

2011-02-12 13:15

In his interview with Gail Smith (The Foreigner, City Press, January 23), Rene Tshiakanyi, a South African-based Congolese, notes: “Something that puzzles me about South Africa is that people tend to complain a lot. I do not ­believe it is the job of government to give people jobs.”

Indeed, the ubiquitous dependency syndrome that afflicts South African communities is deplorable and needs to be discouraged.

But achieving economic emancipation in present-day South Africa is a complex matter that requires a radical reconfiguration of the ­relationship between the state and communities, a paradigm shift in the way in which communities should relate to government.

These are communities that had built organs of people’s power in the chaos of apartheid to provide for their safety, credit, cultural ­expression, information dissemination and other needs.

These communities achieved all this under brutally repressive ­conditions.

But the advent of ­democracy has somehow seen this power being stripped away from our people by banks, insurance companies, funeral parlours, ­consultants and government ­agencies, among others.

Labour and related laws enacted by the democratic government ­only serve to weaken communities, urging them to remain ­disenchanted beneficiaries, clients if you will, who forever expect ­delivery from above.

Tom Dewar of the University of Minnesota differentiates between clienthood and citizenship as ­follows: “Clients are people who are dependent upon and controlled by their leaders and helpers.

“Citizens, on the other hand, are people who understand their own problems in their own terms. Good clients make bad citizens. Good ­citizens make good communities.”

Both Dewar and Tshiakanyi might as well have paraphrased Steve Biko by saying: ­“Communities you are on your own!”

The point is that most ­community-owned organisations tend to deliver relatively efficiently, as their survival depends on their good reputation, whereas ­detached service providers and government officials are inclined to rest on their laurels, relying on protection from their networks, ­patronage and employment ­contracts.

The expansion of the real civic public realm, as found not in ­conference centres but in ­community forums, will boost the dynamism of democracy and aid the contraction of indolence among service providers and ­public representatives.

» Makoko is a social entrepreneur and small enterprise development practitioner ­who ­belongs to grassroots community-based ­organisations in Katlehong, Gauteng.

Feketha is an economics lecturer at the ­University of Fort Hare in Alice, Eastern Cape.

The authors write in their personal capacities 

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