How can young people bring about meaning change in their communities?

This was the topic for discussion as hundreds of young people, across South Africa took part in a dialogue hosted by ACTIVATE! as means of cultivating an active citizenry after South Africa’s fifth elections.

Those who could not attend any of the sessions hosted in South Africa’s three major cities – Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg, participated in the conversation through twitter posts which were aggregated using simple hashtags: #ActivateExchange. 

In Cape Town, more than 100 young citizens were hosted at the Newlands Cricket Stadium, not for a game of cricket, but to discuss and debate the ways in which citizens could become more active, and hold those in power to account. 

Ashley Roman, one of the facilitators of the Cape Town event, said the dialogue also sought to broaden the array of tools for those already working in their communities.

“These young people are already doing amazing work in their communities, they’re running their own projects. What we want to do is to broaden the platform for engagement, what are the possible tools, discussions, mechanisms and new knowledge that we can hold and infuse into our work when we go back our communities,” said Roman.

The dialogue was also seeking to steer these communities away from violent “service delivery” protests which they often used to air their grievances.

Roman said new ways had to be found in which communities engaged with government, and held them accountable.

Section27’s Thoko Madonko said although South Africa had very progressive laws, whose constitution was hailed across the world, spaces for public dialogue were still being closed down.

“We’re one of the world leaders, we have very progressive laws but we have poor implementation. Part of that implementation is a challenge, it’s a struggle,” said Madonko.

She said community activists had to up their game in the face authorities which operated in a secretive manner to hide wrongdoing.

“Many organisations and social movements are beginning to see that you have to shift, you have to play the game differently. The opponents are changing, Marikana was a huge game-changer,” said Madonko.

She said mineworkers in the Platinum Belt, through a protracted strike had taken ownership of their space.

Madonko said injuries, inflicted upon communities by unresponsive corporates and government authorities, were happening in very subtle and often difficult ways to articulate.

These injuries came in the way of which communities received resources like bus rapid transit systems and the ways in which their public schools were funded.

Former Cape Town International Convention Centre chief executive Rashid Toefy said the role of business in public accountability was to understand that ultimately it was good for them to be ethical.

“We must encourage young people to do what they’re passionate about, and that’s how they will become activists,” said Toefy.

But in the same breath, he said institutions like the Public Protector, and public accounts committees were often abused by losing bidders to settle scores.

Under his leadership, he said he had promoted ethical practise within the CTICC by encouraging a culture of whistleblowing.

“If you see something, report it. [But] you can’t start ethics in a cold way, inform [your staff] of what you are about,” said Toefy.

Activator Dean Jates who launched peace garden initiative in his community of Bonteheuwel called on religious organisations to become more involved in their communities, outside of the spiritual realm.

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