John F Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address called on America’s citizens to see the importance of civic action and public service. He repeated words learnt from his high school headmaster: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
The drafting of the 1955 Freedom Charter in South Africa was a civic effort as thousands volunteered to go door-to-door, collecting people’s socio-political submissions for Kliptown Congress of the People where the Freedom Charter was adopted. Volunteering into the armed struggle and other anti-apartheid activism was also a great civic duty.
South Africa’s constitution is fundamentally progressive-socialist in that it made the Reserve Bank and mineral wealth public, and addressed rights around food, shelter, education and life, implying these must be provided or protected by the state for those in need. The constitution is, rightly so, the most expensive ever adopted. It is a holistic human rights charter with limited apartheid reparations ethos.
Other than July 18 each year, where some of us donate 67 minutes of our [“selfies”] time for a greater good in the spirit of Nelson Mandela, and paying of taxes, citizens essentially do not add civic value or give more to the country than we demand from it.
South Africa does not have mandatory military service, nor a mandatory education system. The constitutional framework does not provide for anything citizens are obliged to do for the country. Our legal system is not a jury system.
In essence, a South African child can be born, be fed through food parcels and child social grants, be educated from Grade R to Grade 12 free, medicated or hospitalised free, finish school and stay at home to apply for social housing with free water and power.
The “we demand” list keeps growing, while public destruction of property grows. Our freedom is input-free.
Politicians mainly promote a narrative that seeks to demand from government and not require from citizens. Other than the Nelson Mandela’s Vukuzenzele and Masakhane initiatives, no other civic duty has been sustainable or welcomed.
The August 7 this year, local elections saw – as though voting rights were lightly acquired – 42.17% or 11.2 million registered voters abstaining from their civic duty. If this continues, it will render elections illegitimate.
Politicians are blaming party individuals for this but not the civilians, who, in the main, preferred to enjoy a cold one at a neighbourhood tavern, ducking this very important civic duty while scapegoating.
When Australia saw similar voter abstentions, it introduced mandatory voting laws. There are now 22 nations with compulsory voting laws and they see about 80% turnouts. These include Egypt, Democratic Republic of Congo, Brazil and Argentina.
South Africa needs to be serious about not creating a nanny state. Yes, corruption, joblessness, super scandalous and immoral politicians are bad and do cause some voter apathy.
But it is time to do for our country as much as we demand from her.