Citizens in charge of their destiny

Citizens everywhere deserve the respect
of their governments. They also share
the responsibility, with their leaders, of
creating an adequate society.

With the continent’s abundance of the sun
and wind, solar technology advances in
African countries should have become a
priority many years ago, said Ramphele.
(Images: Southafrica.info)

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Valencia Talane

“We need a philanthropic movement in this country where each one of us does what we can do.”

This was said by distinguished philanthropist, academic and businesswoman Mamphela Ramphele back in 2007, citing, among other concerns, a need for South Africa’s emerging middle class to share more of its wealth in order to help address poverty and inequality in the country.

Fast forward to five years later, today – Ramphele has delivered such a movement.

The Citizens Movement for Social Change, launched in April, encourages a culture of accountability and proactiveness among citizens, which will see them grow beyond a nation wounded by colonialism and apartheid.

Addressing attendees at the launch in Cape Town, Ramphele echoed her words from 2007, saying: “Accountability mechanisms to ensure citizens remain stewards of the democracy and at the centre of governance have not yet been developed.”

On the other hand, a change in how leaders view the people on the ground is also necessary to lessen the gap between those who hold the power to govern and those who should be benefiting from the government.

In an interview with Business Day earlier this year, Ramphele said one of the flaws of South Africa is that in the transition to democracy “we skipped a step”, forgetting to liberate ourselves from the psyche of an apartheid society, which had thrived on the principles of job reservation and exclusion.

“We underestimated the depth of the chasm that we inherited. We thought we could throw money at education and money at other things, but it required much, much more,” she said.

“Now the best weapon anyone has to arrest the slide is to become an active citizen and champion of the Constitution, which enshrines social justice.”

Lessons from Africa

From 2000 to 2004 Ramphele was one of four managing directors at the World Bank, and the focus of her post was human development in Africa.

It was a great achievement for her on an individual level; she was the first African to reach a position of such seniority at the global financial institution.

“My contribution to the World Bank was to say ‘what is good for people in the US and China is good for people in Africa’, which I think has helped the bank think more holistically in their efforts on development,” she said.

However, she reckons, it was a great learning curve for her as well.

Speaking to UK-based Ubraintv.com – a digital network that focuses on energy and environmental news – Ramphele shared her views on Africa’s preparedness to start taking care of itself, so to speak.

There are parts of Africa that are working, and some that are not, she said.

“”Ethiopia, which was in the media for the wrong reasons a few decades ago, is now pioneering the process of reforestation,” she said, referring to the famine that gripped the Horn of Africa country, where varying reports put the number of deaths between 400 000 and 900 000, with many more displaced.

“This was achieved by ordinary people whose government had to catch up with the citizens.”

She added that the events of the last year or so in the continent’s Arab nations were also a sign of the revolutionary change that can be brought about by citizens.

These are ordinary people taking charge of their own issues, demanding that governments meet them halfway in creating governable states that address the needs of the poor.

Africa has a unique way of communicating, said Ramphele. Many people in Africa subscribe to a culture of meeting in a circle, with everyone around the circle having a say and contributing towards a solution for the concern of the day. This is known as a kgotla, from the Setswana word meaning “court”.

“There is no hierarchy in a circle, so everybody gets a turn to be heard,” she reasoned.

This will come in handy, said Ramphele, in the networking and knowledge-sourcing processes that African scientists should be enlisting in order to advance the continent’s chances at fighting climate change.

Technology in the fight against climate change

Ramphele is of the view that most of postcolonial Africa’s governments ignored the investment in their people and, therefore, the enabling of Africans to innovate.

“Despite Africa’s shortcomings in terms of governance, the interconnected world allows us to look at what is happening elsewhere, and determine how we can adapt that to our environment,” she said.

“From having looked at the technology the world has to offer, combining it with our natural resources like the sun and wind, we should be able to develop technology that is appropriate for our needs.”

Through the work of the Technology Innovation Agency, a government agency of which Ramphele is chairperson, she is able to see benefits of the internet and social media revolution, with young people now able to connect to their peers around the world to share ideas.

Ignoring the changes around the globe will, in time, mean that we will fall behind in our efforts to preserve the planet, she said, and when we run out of time, nature could punish us.

“The current shift to think beyond economic growth and to embrace an approach towards human development means that at all levels of governance, national, continental and global, we have a set of actors who are well informed.”

Nurturing a responsible citizenry

The task ahead, Ramphele argued, is to mobilise citizens to voice their rights and exercise their responsibilities.

Without an active citizenry and with enduring poverty and development failures, South Africa is headed down a dangerous path of instability.

 

*Image of Mamphela Ramphele courtesy of Wikipedia