You won’t read about him in newspapers

2010-08-23 00:00

HIS face doesn’t appear on billboards or magazine covers, and I doubt you’ll ever see him on TV or hear about him on radio, but he’s the kind of person whom Nelson Mandela spoke about when he said: “We must use time wisely and forever realise that the time is always ripe to do right”.

And, Mr Traffic (as he’s known) is doing exactly that.

As one of South Africa’s many unemployed, he realised that he had time on his hands, time he could put to good use for the benefit of others.

So, morning after morning, he takes to the streets, clad in his reflective jacket, and braves the biting cold to take his position at a busy pedestrian crossing on Sontonga Street in Katlehong, a township in Ekurhuleni (formerly known as the East Rand).

His duty — to ensure that pedestrian pupils cross the busy roads safely on their way to school.

He stands with the little children, some as young as six years old, teaching them the rules of road safety. At the end of it all he won’t be paid nor will he receive a reward. He’s doing it out of the goodness of his heart.

He’s what I (and Madiba) call a good citizen. There are hundreds of thousands like him — unsung heroes who toil tirelessly for the benefit of others. In South Africa, there are 58 000 registered non-governmental organisations, and while corporates give R5 billion to social investment, it is estimated that private individuals donateR9 billion to social causes.

As former United States president John F. Kennedy said in the sixties when the Cold War was at its height: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”.

Mr Traffic realised that working parents were not able to accompany their children to school in the morning and supervise their journey across dangerously busy roads.

He decided to do something about it, and it seems that many South Africans are waking up to the call to do good for the country in the name of nation-building.

This couldn’t have come at a better time. We are a nation beset by many challenges: xenophobic attacks, youth apathy, affirmative action, BEE, unemployment, poverty, crime and lack of service delivery.

It seems that the staging of the World Cup, rather like the 1994 elections, has signalled that as a nation we are capable of great things. In 1994, it was the power to forgive. Now, in 2010, it is the power to demonstrate good citizenship actively.

“Volunteers played a critical role and were the backbone of the 16 functional areas of the World Cup. Whether it was showing a spectator to his or her seat, escorting a VIP, driving a Fifa delegate, welcoming guests at the airport or moving boxes from one site to another, volunteers worked hard, smiled and did what was asked of them,” said Andile Lungisa, executive chairperson of the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA), which was involved in training and mobilising volunteers.

And according to the NYDA, the youth came out in droves to support and show their patriotism to the country, and ensured that the event was an astounding success.

One of these volunteers, Obakeng Mosetlhe from Rustenburg, explains how it felt to be involved.

“It’s great to be a volunteer because you are an ambassador for your country, so everything you have to do, you have to do perfectly and with a smile.”

Of course, this augurs well for the country’s future as it breeds a culture of South Africans who are becoming publically minded.

It has taken plenty of preaching though, from politicians, civil organisations and prominent individuals, to inculcate a culture of good citizenship. But change doesn’t take place overnight and as Ghanaian diplomat and former secretary-general of the United Nations Kofi Annan once observed, it’s a process.

“No one is born a good citizen. No nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime.”

Close to 70 000 ordinary South Africans applied to be part of the volunteer programme and only 18 000 were chosen.

Working in various fields such as transport, hospitality, media, accreditation and marketing, the World Cup volunteers were the unsung heroes of the tournament. They once again demonstrated what could be achieved if we work as a collective towards a shared vision.

So, is writer and musician Sam Mokorosi’s dream of the South African citizen rising from the pit of indifference coming to fruition? He once wrote on his blog: “I am eager to see the rise of the South African citizen. For too long we have pinned our hopes on government, as if they are the answer to all our problems. I submit that government cannot, and should not be seen as holders of a magic wand. Sure, they have responsibilities, and must be called to account. But the more responsibility we give to the government, the more power we inadvertently give away. There can be no responsibility without authority.”

As we labour towards our goal of a better life for all, the actions of Mr Traffic and the World Cup volunteers should continue to inspire us to be good citizens and to dedicate our time to the benefit of others. It is well documented that the greatest source of happiness is in doing good, making a difference to the lives of others.

• From Africa — The Good News.

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