Active citizenship, focus on the youth

By Leroy Maisiri: Communications and Citizen Engagement Officer

I was dragged to an off-grid campsite very recently, our phones were taken away, effectively stripped from the addictive sphere of social media and the globalised world inside the pale blue gleam of the screen.

The reasoning behind jettisoning our phones was to allow us to be fully present and bond with each other in preparation for the year ahead as student leaders in the University. As a passionate MobiSAM advocate around the camp fire, I started to preach yet again the gospel of MobiSAM, what it is, and why it is the most innovative form of citizen participation in Makana.

The group was large and demographically mixed ranging between 20 and 26 years of age.  Yet chatting about how they understand their role as citizens of a country it quickly became apparent that, “active citizenship” was a futuristic thing, something to do when you are filing tax claims and raising a family.

And then it dawned on me; MobiSAM’s biggest challenge will not be on the technical systems side of things, but in fostering a strong sense of what it means to actively participate in local governance processes as a young person in South Africa.

As a social scientist, I racked my mind trying to find the root cause of this and realized that in most cases citizen engagement has been narrowly defined to mean “voting” arguably to fit a narrow agenda – as has been the  global trend. People are therefore socialized into having to wait to be an adult (18 years of age in South Africa) before they are even considered as autonomous people old enough to actively engage in shaping how they are governed and by whom. Such a view is detrimental as it reinforces the idea that politics is something “distant, that they will be invited to join when they are judged to be ‘rightful’ citizens”.

I am so glad MobiSAM has a different perspective, I work with a team that understands that the youth are  paramount to this process of citizen participation. There is a comprehensive understanding which aims to facilitate an increase in the capacity of young people to participate, today. To be part of today’s active solutions MobiSAM provides many people with a platform that fits neatly in the palm of our hands.

After the end of the camp, cell phones returned to their owners, with everyone focused on the number of WhatsApp texts they had received, it became clear that each and every one of us there had the ability to reply to loved ones, check on what’s been happening on Facebook, but also if need be, to make our voices heard.

I am excited that this year MobiSAM will be working with the Upstart Youth development project found in the heart of Joza in Grahamstown whose vision is to “provide scaffolds for life for Eastern Cape Youth through the delivery of experiences and opportunities that develop their skills to make them become active citizens” and also with the 3500 person strong army of Oppidan students who stay off campus and thus are negatively effected when confronted by poor service delivery.

It is my hope that when the process of unlearning to relearn begins it will become clear that citizen participation goes beyond the legal status, or political party affiliations but actually

focuses on the collection of roles that individuals can play in forming, maintaining and changing their communities every day, and that the young people in their numbers are in a unique position.

MobiSAM is neatly carving itself in the history books as it takes the Makana District into a slow, steady revolutionary process of seeking to improve the communication between local government and residents.


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