Over the past two decades, South Africa has used education as a tool for empowering citizens to engage with each other and government towards deepening democracy in the country.
Indeed, education is a powerful tool for promoting civic responsibility.
As American statesman and scholar Edward Everett said, “Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army.”
And Nelson Mandela, once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
It is undeniable that education is the best remedy for most of the social, economic and political challenges plaguing our society.
While the government has taken significant steps towards addressing education inequities facing the country after decades of oppression under apartheid, there is still more work to be done.
Many of our citizens fail to thrive and are stuck in cycles of generational deprivation, socially and economically.
Is the lack of civic education by default or by design?
In South Africa, education reform has become a focal point for the endeavour of enhancing citizens’ capacity to engage in public life confidently, as well as holding their leaders accountable.
However, our education system excludes civic education in its curriculum and this could be one of the contributing factors towards apathy in society.
Reinforcing civic responsibility among citizens requires much more than political dialogues.
The absence of civic education in schools and tertiary institutions has left ordinary citizens with scant knowledge of active citizenship and its role in enhancing democracy.
Civics, by definition, means understanding the political and practical aspects of citizenship, as well as rights and responsibilities that we have to each other.
Civic education goes a long way towards conscientising us that citizens do not have the luxury of plundering their hard-won freedom by engaging in acts that undermine their independence and the privilege of see the realisation of a better life for all.
It also warns them of the dangers of passive participation in a democracy; if citizens don’t participate they are contributing to the existing narrative of the country.
Active participation means they demand their rights and privileges from government, as empowered by the Constitution.
Until citizens are aware that the Constitution serves them and their rights, they will remain passive and recipients of sub-standard public services.
Civic education contributes towards patriotism, encouraging citizens to participate in building democracy and governance processes, embracing all social groups with special needs such as the youth and people with disabilities.
The question is, are our institutions supporting inclusiveness in our society that is becoming increasingly polarised along racial, gender and ethnic lines?
Moreover, civic education helps us to understand better that democracy means equality before the law.
It helps us to understand tolerance and appreciation of our shared history and the common geographical space that we inhabit, to co-create a caring society, through kindness and love.
As we celebrate Freedom Day, there is a need to emphasise its meaning and the role civic education plays in deepening democracy.
Many of our citizens and leaders have forgotten the cost of freedom, especially the human cost.
Freedom Day should remind all of us that the gift of liberation must never be used for personal advancement.
Our responsibilities as citizens are outlined in the National Development Plan and could be summarised as:
. We are responsible for ensuring the right to equality – treating every person equally, fairly and with no discrimination whatsoever;
. We must treat people with reverence and respect and dignity, ensuring their right to dignity;
. We must respect, protect and defend human life;
. We are responsible for ensuring the right to family care, especially honouring and respecting family;
. We must respect people’s right to own property;
. We must solve any conflict amicably through acceptable means that respect the rights of other people involved;
. We must respect and protect our natural environment and animal and plant life;
. We must respect each other’s religions, including their beliefs and opinions;
. We must work hard and do our best in everything we do. Living a good and successful life involves hard work, and anything worthwhile only comes with hard work; and
. We must obey the laws of the country, ensuring that others do as well, and contribute in every possible way to making South Africa a great country.
As responsible citizens, let’s reclaim the legacy of this important day in our democratic history.
You too can not only reclaim and restore the legacy and heritage of Mandela but celebrate it by being an agent of nation-building and contributing towards the new South Africa.
Kariuki is the programmes director at the Democracy Development Programme
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