Posts Tagged ‘citizen’

Young South African’s – Actively Disengaged

“I have never voted … I don’t see the use of voting.”

These are the words of one young South African that we spoke to in 2012. This young person was not the only one however, in the group of more than 80 people that we spoke to, who had a negative perception of voting. Many of these ‘born frees’ were disillusioned with the process, regarded it as a waste of their time because they thought that putting their X on the page would have very little effect. They saw the process as simply not being able to change either the way politics played out nationally in South Africa, or more importantly in changing the situations which made their daily lives difficult. Things like unemployment, drugs, crime, teenage pregnancy – these are the issues many young people regarded as important to them, and they felt that their vote would make little, if any, difference to those same problems.

 “Ja, personally I’ve lost trust in politicians, and the last time I voted was 2006”

For a long time I thought this made these young people disconnected from society, and disengaged from what was going on around them nationally and locally. The rhetoric which I read about young people distancing themselves from politics and therefore not being ‘active’ citizens was reinforced by the way our focus group participants spoke about politics. Traditional forms of politics such as voting, attending political meetings and signing petitions have for too long been regarded as the standard by which we judge others and their value as citizens. If you don’t vote, are you really an active and engaged citizen? If you aren’t a member of a political party, can you really say you have an interest in politics? But why should young people find resonance in the rhetoric of political speak which too often does not speak directly to them or listen to them enough? We need to recognise instead that there is a clear distinction between being disengaged and disinterested in formal or traditional politics, and being detached from wider democratic and political processes which may be represented by alternative political and civic activities. Wring et al note rather astutely when speaking about young people, that “politics’ as represented by parties and politicians simply does not connect with their everyday lives in any meaningful way” (Wring, Henn & Weinstein 1999: 203).

Too often we base our judgements of citizenship on the traditional, without thinking about what appeals to young people. Based on traditional norms or standards of what an active citizen is most of the young people we spoke to would be immediately judged as passive and disinterested – as bad citizens. Hart argues, that rather than judge people based on these norms and standards, we should use a ‘cultural citizenship’ approach which “seeks to uncover and challenge the cultural and institutional practises that support fixed notions or normative assumptions of ‘ideal’ citizenship, which serve to exclude citizens who may differ from these norms, for example, in terms of identity, culture or beliefs” (2009: 645).

Drawing on survey data gathered from almost 1000 young people (, we see a picture of a young person who is involved in their community, and who takes an interest in what is going on around them. Although they may not participate in traditional forms of political activity, they have connections with social life and are indeed ‘active’ citizens in their own way. Their lived experiences show us that while they disregard formal politics, they show a strong regard for the people around them and for improving their lives. We need to judge young people based on the practices which take place in their daily lives such as helping a neighbour or being involved in a social group and not disregard them based on our ‘adult’ and traditional measures.


With so much emphasis being placed on 2014 as the year that South Africa’s democracy turns 20, and the year of the next national elections, young people should be proud of their citizenship and should be looked up to as good citizens, whether they vote or not.  Unlike many people who regard themselves as good citizens for standing in a queue every four years to vote, these young people live active citizenship because they practice small acts in their daily lives. During the National Schools Festival in 2012, the Mellon Media and Citizenship project conducted World Café sessions with young people who attended and we asked them their thoughts on being citizens in South Africa. Below are some of the messages that the young people wrote to each other. It is clear that these are not the disengaged and disconnected youth that many citizenship scholars write about. Over and above the optimism about South Africa’s future (perhaps as a result of naivety), there was an overwhelming sense of action and taking charge of their situations, being involve in their communities, and of getting things done – these were active, engaged and ‘good’ citizens.

card6 card5 card3 card2 card1

What is a citizen?

By Annetjie van Wynegaard

Date Released: Sat, 31 August

david holwerk

This week David Holwerk, director of communications at the Charles F. Kettering Foundation in Ohio, USA, was visiting the School of Journalism and Media Studies to talk about how journalists write about citizens. The Kettering Foundation is a research organisation in the USA with a strong interest in work done by citizens, communities and journalists in a democracy.

Holwerk said that it seems to be a universal article of faith among journalists that they serve the needs of citizens in democracy. But journalists seem much less certain about what citizens actually do, which raises doubts about the ability of journalists to serve citizens’ needs effectively. “Why do people need things?” asked Holwerk. When you need something, he said, it implies that you want to do something. “If need implies action, then what is it that citizens do? They vote. We give them the information they need to vote. Why? Are citizens only voters?”

These are the questions Holwerk has been grappling with for the past four years. At the Kettering Foundation many political scientists and theorists have some ideas about what citizens do. So Holwerk started to think, “You ought to be able to figure out what citizens do by looking at what journalists do.” But when you look at newspapers, watch television or listen to the radio, it’s difficult to find citizens there doing anything, he said.

Journalists and editors need to develop a broader, denser, more robust understanding of what it is that citizens do, he said, but the conversation seems completely theoretical in the context of American journalism.

Enter the Eastern Cape. Holwerk said the Eastern Cape in particular is a rich place to pursue these questions about citizens and journalists that are current and real here. Holwerk said the conversations he has had with journalists from the Daily Dispatch and the Herald he could have had with few American journalists. He said because citizenship and democracy are still fairly new in South Africa, it gives these kinds of questions currency. He found in some South African newspapers community dialogues that bring citizens together to wrestle with issues and solutions.

What is a citizen?

Holwerk said an obstacle to journalists everywhere is not having a clear definition of the word. The legal definition of citizen is someone who is entitled to full rights, including voting rights, in their native state, he said, but this is both too broad and too narrow for the purpose of journalism. Another definition is anyone with the ability to act, he said, but if merely having the ability to act makes you a citizen and you choose not to act, there is no need for journalists to act, and nothing to cover.

Holwerk’s definition of citizens is two people working together to solve a shared public problem. For journalists, if two people work together to solve a private problem, it’s not news, but if they find a solution that benefits the public, that is news.

This was not Holwerk’s first visit to South Africa. Last year he moderated a panel on journalism and citizenship at the National Arts Festival, and in 2011 he was a speaker at the symposium on Ethical Reporting of Health Issues in Africa. In 2008 Marietjie Oelofsen, a PhD Fellow in the Mellon Media and Citizenship Project at the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, went to the Kettering Foundation in Dayton, Ohio as a Fanning Fellow in Democracy and Media. At that time Holwerk was the editor of the Sacramento Bee and the foundation sent Oelofsen to Sacramento to speak to him about journalism and his work around citizenship. Holwerk joined the Foundation as director of communications and resident scholar in June 2009. Oelofsen went for another meeting and they started to talk about Holwerk visiting South African newsrooms and journalism schools.

Before coming to the Kettering Foundation, Holwerk worked for more than 30 years as a journalist at newspapers in Kentucky, Minnesota and California. He worked as a copy editor, reporter, editorial page editor, managing editor and editor-in-chief. He has managed staffs that have won numerous national awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes for editorial writing.

Holwerk is a graduate of the University of Kentucky. He spends his spare time fishing, writing country music and perfecting his recipes for barbecued chicken and hot sauce.

Photograph by Annetjie van Wynegaard

Social Media and Global Citizens

Areta Sobieraj is interviewed by Vanessa Malila regarding her work for Oxfam Italy in promoting the notion of the global citizen in schools around the world. During her trip to a project in Grahamstown, South Africa, Areta visited the School of Journalism and Media Studies to discuss her project and the potential and challenges of using social media as a tool for promoting global citizenship.
This is a short clip of the interview and the transcript follows below.

Areta Sobieraj, education officer at Oxfam Italy, addresses the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, South Africa.

Vanessa: What is a global citizen?
Aletta: That is a very good question. I think the three of us sitting here would probably be able to give our own responses and if you continue to ask people then it will always be different so there isn’t a given response. But I think in terms of global citizenship education, I would say that a global citizen is someone who is very much aware of the world and very much aware of the fact that they are a citizen and the role that they have as a citizen. I think it’s somebody who respects and values diversity, I think it’s someone who is able to understand also how the world works, having knowledge about all sorts of aspects within society. A global citizen would be somebody who is not only aware of but becomes outraged at incidences of social injustice and so feels part of the solution, feels responsible, participates actively, so is willing to make the world a more equitable and sustainable place. We have a very simplified learning process which is ‘learn – think – act’. It’s very much that when you have the knowledge and are exposed to certain situations you then bring your own critical thinking and analysis – which are of course aspects which have to be fostered – but because there are so many socio-affective, so the emotions come in, the knowledge is there, the ability to read one’s own community, one’s own local as well as global community I think, then you feel that you should do something and that you can do something.

Vanessa: How do individuals who come from a place like South Africa adopt this ideal of becoming a global citizen?
Aletta: I think it’s something, it’s not only unusual or uncommon in South Africa, but I have to say. But I think that what is very important is that the feeling of not having the power to change things is very common to young people generally. Of course it would be even more so, I imagine it could be even more so in certain situations in South Africa where really their voices aren’t heard, perhaps they don’t feel – they’ve never had the possibility to have this kind of exposure. The change they can make and the change that everyone can make is local change.

Vanessa: Has the media been a hindrance or an enabler of this notion of the global citizen?
Aletta: on one side this idea that the world has opened up and so you have students on one side of the world and students on the other who are exposed to completely different lifestyles as well as being able to see cultures which perhaps they weren’t exposed to so easily before. So in one way this is part of being aware of the world. So yes, it’s important. What has happened in Italy for example, I’m going to speak from a personal level, the media has also limited especially when it comes to TV more than anything else, has limited just how much young people can learn I think, because of the types of programmes that are on TV, this all comes down to who is controlling the TV. But having said that you then have social media which contrasts and in fact more young people in Italy are spending their time on social media then they are watching the TV. And this comes back to the idea of being able to have direct contact with other people, so exchanging ideas, getting to know what is going on. And I think that social media such as social networks they are linking people together and I think this is also important that young people feel that they not alone. So, I would say there are definitely two sides to the answer.
I think from what I have seen, I am currently working on a project here in Grahamstown which uses social media to talk about in this case it’s a human rights project, so it’s the right to culture. So we have been carrying out different debates, discussions, activities on the right to culture and then using a social network and there are five classes here in South Africa – five classes in Italy, so whatever they have come up with they put on this social media website and they are able to see each other’s responses, ask each other, you know comment on what is happening, and if they have any questions they want to ask. So something like this is quite rare, it doesn’t happen very often, and I’m doing it in township schools here, so I see the kids that don’t have this kind of exposure regularly and of course it’s very frustrating, it’s frustrating because you can see just how much they would be able to thrive from these kinds of experiences, or being able at least to have the chance to be connected. I know there are good projects going on especially in the township schools and so this is kind of a ray of hope, so it would be something definitely which would, and probably will become slowly part of the way schools work because it’s a very immediate way of having this exposure.

You have the right to feel at home

By Tish Haridass

Home – the word feels strange in my mouth. People have a lot of opinions about what it means, about where it is and about how it is defined. I don’t think I have any and people have a lot of opinions about that too.

I don’t think home is an actual thing. I think through centuries of development, we came up with the idea of home. People have a long standing history of attaching meaning to things to comfort themselves. Meanings about life so that death isn’t scary. Meanings about family so that life isn’t scary. And meanings about home, so that families aren’t scary. We’re scared. We need to know that we belong somewhere, to someone. We need to be comforted.
Home is about comfort.

Section 26 of the South African Constitution gives you the right to access adequate housing. And though I don’t have a specific place I call home or particularly want one (and oh boy, do people have opinions about that!) I think people should have the right to feel at home. You should have the right to not be scared.

There are thousands of people who wake up in a house that they can’t call home because they’re scared. They’re scared because they’re gay, or because they weren’t born in the country they live in, or because they have Aids. And they have the right to be protected from persecution but they should have the right to not be scared. And that isn’t a right they can put in the Constitution. That’s a right that we should afford people out of compassion, out of common humanity.

Every person, I believe, gets to a point where the house they grew up in isn’t their home any more. It doesn’t fit any more. You’ve grown too much, changed too much and want too much more. And at that point, you have a choice to make – either to hold on to your home or move forward.

There are people in South Africa who didn’t fit into their homes any more and they chose to move forward. They chose South Africa as the place for their new home. We afford them rights to housing but not to a home. And by doing that, we may as well take away the house too.

Every day I hear people talk about being homesick and about missing the comforts of home. There are such grand ideas pulled into such a tiny word. Sometimes I feel homesick, not for a place, just for the comfort. I can’t imagine a life in which that comfort is just a far off fantasy.

People have a lot of opinions about the idea of home. I have just one.

You have the right to feel at home, anything you say at home cannot and will not be held against you, you have the right to create a family in your home – your own family, however you choose to do it – and you have the right to not have to feel scared in your home.

You have the right.

(Tish is a third year Writing & Editing student at the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University)

Login Form