Across the world, citizens are demanding a greater say in decisions that affect their lives. In SA, citizens are demanding something more than the formal architecture of democratic governance with a Constitution and free and fair elections. They are demanding the right to quality education and health, jobs and the right to have their basic needs to houses, water, electricity and municipal services. The power of an active citizenry has been well demonstrated by Section 27 and Equal Education in the education sector.
The impetus for an active citizenry is founded in the understanding that the developmental challenges facing South Africa cannot be addressed by the government alone. Along with the right to an equal and democratic society comes the responsibility to aid in addressing the challenges of our past. The expectation of active citizenship is for all citizens to do what they can, when they can in both their personal and professional capacity.
We must encourage and allow each of our boys to see themselves as young, empowered leaders who are able to bring positive change in their communities through constructive social action; to think of themselves as the guardians of the constitution and to live its values in their homes, at work and in the wider society. They must be able to voice their rights, make others aware of their rights; hold those in public office accountable and exercise their responsibilities. We must encourage our boys to play a bigger role in their local communities by engaging thought influencers through dialogue, and through civic engagement with community-based organisations at a local, national and international level.
Through civil participation and civic engagement we must teach our boys to be personally responsible, participatory citizens and justice-orientated citizens. Active citizens are those who develop the skills, knowledge and understanding to be able to make informed decisions about their communities and workplaces with the aim of improving the quality of life in these. At national level it can move from voting to being involved in campaigning pressure groups to being a member of a political party. At international level the global active citizen may be involved in movements to promote sustainability or fair trade, to reduce poverty or eliminate slavery.
Active citizens challenge the rules and existing structures from within the bounds of democratic processes and do not become involved in violent acts. There is a general set of values and dispositions that can be associated with active democratic citizenship including respect for justice, democracy and the rule of law, openness, tolerance, courage to defend a point of view and a willingness to listen to, work with and stand up for others
Active Citizenship is a form of literacy that we need to teach our boys:
- To come to grips with what happens in public life;
- To develop knowledge, understanding, critical thinking and independent judgement of local, national and global events;
- To be empowered and to be prepared to take action, i.e. acquiring knowledge, skills and attitudes, being able and willing to use them, make decisions, take action individually and collectively.
We can identify some key characteristics of Active Citizenship that we can foster in our boys' development from an early age:
- Participation in the community (involvement in a voluntary activity or engaging with local government agencies)
- Empowerment to play a part in the decisions and processes that affect them, particularly public policy and services
- An understanding of the political/social/economic context of their participation so that they can make informed decisions
- The ability to challenge policies or actions and existing structures on the basis of principles such as equality, inclusiveness, diversity and social justice.