Mamphela Ramphele

The price of failing to invest in civic education

2018-12-12 10:21
Man waving a South Africa flag (iStock)

Man waving a South Africa flag (iStock)

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We would do well to make 2019 the year of investing in civic education in our public servants to ensure that they understand their rights and responsibilities to serve this nation, writes Mamphela Ramphele.

Nobel Peace Prize winner, Wangari Mathai, an unconquerable, spirited Kenyan activist, captures most poignantly the source of her inspiration: "You cannot enslave a mind that knows itself; that values itself; that understands itself."

As we continue to reel from the unveiling of the enormity of the impunity in corruption and the destruction of the integrity of key state institutions, we need to reflect deeply on how we as citizens contributed to this culture.  

We need to ask ourselves the question: where were we as citizens as our hard-won democracy was being undermined? The revelations at the Zondo commission on state capture, the Nugent commission on SARS and the various forensic reports on corruption in both the public and private sectors, are testimonies of a society that tolerated lawlessness as a way of doing business.  

As we celebrate 20 years of the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the passing of Dr Alex Boraine, its vice-chair, is it not time for us to recommit ourselves to tackling the unfinished business of the TRC? 

The report of the TRC enjoined us to secure restorative justice for those who built a bridge of pain and tears to help heal our broken society. Restorative justice included reparations for those who suffered gross violations of their and their loved ones' human rights. It was also about innoculating our society against impunity by prosecuting those who ignored or played games with the TRC and failed to make full disclosures to secure amnesty. Our government has failed us on this score over the last 25 years.

We have also failed as citizens to ensure that our democracy fulfils its responsibilities to complement our celebrated political settlement with restorative justice actions to address the legacy of socio-economic violations of human rights that set the foundations of colonialism and apartheid.

President Cyril Ramaphosa's hand in restoring the integrity of our state institutions can only be strengthened by informed, self-confident citizens who reclaim their responsibilities to hold their leaders accountable. Corporate South Africa needs to come to the party to strengthen President Ramaphosa's hand by investing in programs that integrate civic education as part of mainstream human capital development of their own staff members.  

Neuroscience is now very clear about the benefits of self-knowledge, sharpening one's learning capabilities to live and work in teams, and shared values that build trust and social cohesion that enhances the productivity of each member of the team. Would it not be good business for the private sector to invest in ensuring that each one of their employees, from the CEO to the cleaner, have minds that cannot be enslaved by ignorance of their rights and responsibilities as Wangari Mathai enjoins us?

We have allowed our highly acclaimed Constitution to become an effective tool of the few elites to protect themselves against accountability. They milk every opportunity to delay and undermine the public good and accountability. Our nation is at risk of our Constitution being hijacked by extremists for their own agendas. We are failing to enable the majority to become the most effective defenders of the rights and responsibilities the Constitution bestows on all citizens.

Imagine if Business Unity SA (BUSA), Business Leadership SA (BLSA) the Black Management Forum, the Black Lawyers Association, the trade unions and many other private and civil society organisations were to commit to New Year's resolutions to invest in civic education as part of their culture! Imagine if all faith-based communities were to invest in civic education for the millions of citizens who are the flocks of their parishes, mosques and synagogues!

Imagine an education system, both public and private, teaching Life Orientation to ensure that every one of our children graduate from high school as well-informed, resilient and active citizens who rise to their responsibilities to hold their leaders accountable.  

Imagine the impact of self-knowledge, self-confidence and public spiritedness on the growing population of young citizens. This would be the most effective inoculation against self-destructive lifestyles and vulnerability to both left and rightwing populists who prey on the ignorant. 

We would do well to make 2019 the year of investing in civic education in our public servants to ensure that they understand their rights and responsibilities to serve this nation. The Ubuntu/human rights values of our Constitution should be the anchor of induction programs for public servants, as well being part of ongoing professional development programs.  

Our beautiful country deserves better. We have the power to reimagine and reshape a future we can be proud of. The time for action is now.

- Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    education  |  civil servants  |  corruption
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