Only civil society can reinvigorate the country's culture of activism

Throughout the World Cup games, which began June 11th, representatives from Mott-funded organizations in South Africa shared  personal reflections on the nation’s past, present and future by writing brief essays from many of the communities where the matches were played. Here is the Steve Biko Foundation's contribution written by Y. Obenewa Amponsah.

"Only civil society can reinvigorate the country's culture of activism."

Sixteen years after the establishment of a full democracy, South Africa has much to be proud of. It is a nation whose constitution is the envy of many human rights activists around the world; a democracy which has demonstrated a maturity far beyond its years in weathering political storms; and which has seen the creation of 3.5 million jobs in the past decade and a half.

Yet, South Africa is also a nation that struggles to overcome inequality on a daily basis, both the disparities that are a legacy of apartheid and those that have been fostered in the present. These inequalities are evidenced by the fact that as of 2008 only 36 percent of third graders could read and count at grade level; that life expectancy has fallen to age 50; and that 40 percent of households are extremely poor.
In the early, exhilarating days of post-apartheid South Africa, government – in concert with a variety of stakeholders – worked to create policies that embodied the hopes and dreams of South Africans from every walk of life. Yet, today, as the nation approaches the third decade of its democracy, the struggle has shifted from the creation of equitable policies to their implementation. This is a fight that civil society is well-positioned to champion. Not by promoting a passive culture of service delivery and entitlement, which unfortunately has come to frame so much of the developmental discourse, but by reinvigorating the culture of activism that marked the years leading up to the realization of South Africa’s freedom.

It is only through partnering with those at the periphery of South Africa’s democratic spaces to equip the marginalized with the skills, information, and, most importantly, a sense of ownership, that the nation will achieve its true potential. Only in recognizing the inexorable link between biography and history, between consciousness of self and national ideals, will South Africa attain the vision articulated by Steve Biko: In time we shall be in the position to bestow upon South Africa the greatest gift possible: a more human face.”

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