/ 11 August 2023

Reviving the spirit of unity and hope: A call for an active citizenry in South Africa

Udf Poster 7 One Million Signature Campaign
The experience of the mobilisation and organisation attained during the UDF’s existence has in it critical lessons that are relevant today for application in mitigating the debilitating disempowerment felt by communities.

Let us fight against despondency, retain our hope and exercise our democratic right to vote

In a country where despondency and disillusionment are pervasive, many ordinary South Africans, including myself, grapple with the decision to fight or flee from our challenges. As we navigate the complexities of our circumstances, we are reminded of the fight for freedom and justice symbolised by Nelson Mandela during the UDF’s Release Mandela Campaign. Now more than ever, as we commemorate Mandela Month, we must draw inspiration from the traditions and values bequeathed by those who went before us in the fight for freedom.

Being heard is not enough: Action is required 

While knowing that our voices are being heard is encouraging, mere acknowledgement is not enough. We, the people, were our own liberators and must not shy away from the historical call to be involved in addressing the pressing issues facing our nation. Our entire country cannot be made to wait with docility while the party in power introspects. There must naturally be tension between people’s demands and a governing party’s preoccupation with its inner demons. People have every right to be impatient, especially as those afforded the privilege to execute are distracted by vested interests that have more to do with the pecuniary inclinations of those in positions of authority. 

For this reason, I believe that a people’s government cannot afford to be entangled in a party’s internal struggles. Providing critical services to the people must remain uninterrupted and should always be the primary focus of state institutions. Citizens expect that the annual plans of the president should be prioritised for “a better future for all” that the ANC promises. 

Reconnecting with the UDF legacy: Lessons for today’s challenges 

As a member of the surviving United Democratic Front (UDF) executive, I can attest to the importance of remembering the legacy of the anti-apartheid body. We united across racial lines, mobilising people to fight for justice and equality. Non-racialism was not just a slogan; it was evident in how we organised and led. Reconnecting with the principles of the UDF is essential for revitalising the body politic of our society.

Rebuilding strong civic associations and community involvement

In the present day, the palpable loss of meaningful community engagement, accentuated by the tragic breakdown of civic associations, has contributed to the prevailing sense of disempowerment in society. While there are indeed a plethora of civil society organisations across the length and breadth of the country, the experience of the mobilisation and organisation attained during the UDF’s existence has in it critical lessons that are relevant today for application in mitigating this debilitating disempowerment felt by communities. 

It is imperative to rebuild these structures to empower people and foster an active citizenry. Civic organisations and advice centres, in particular, can provide access to information, promote unity, and address the community’s diverse needs. Most importantly, party affiliation or membership cannot be a prerequisite for forming or joining these local-level structures.

Challenges and opportunities for a strong opposition

A healthy democracy requires a robust opposition that challenges the governing party and presents alternative policies and ideas. As we are not a one-party state, South Africa’s political landscape needs a strong opposition rooted in explicit countervailing ideologies and programmes that are not just focused on individual gain. To ensure a thriving democracy, change and a constitutional rotation of power is essential, allowing different parties to bring fresh perspectives and ideas.

Preserving the Constitution and democracy: The role of an active citizenship

The UDF fought for a democratic South Africa anchored in a robust constitution. Today, it is imperative that in whatever sector we are in, we must fight to protect and preserve this constitution through an active citizenry. This means holding leaders accountable and demanding transparency in governance. A passive citizenry risks losing the gains made all those years ago.

Uniting and empowering citizens for a brighter future

Reviving the UDF spirit and fostering an active citizenry is vital to reclaiming our democracy. The commemoration and celebration of the UDF’s 1983 launch takes place on 20 August 2023 at the Old Johannesburg City Hall, and this 40th-anniversary celebration must leave a legacy by focusing on campaigns that forge, deepen and strengthen an active citizenry. A citizenry that knows its rights and appreciates its power to affect change through mobilisation and organisation stands a better chance of holding those in power accountable.

Transcending our historical legacy: Empowering voters 

We must be vigilant and jealously guard our hard-earned freedoms as we progress. We have to keep working at transcending those historical barriers that discourage voters and rob them of their agency of being change agents. While we do not intend to form a political party for the upcoming elections, we encourage citizens to exercise their right to vote and make informed choices. Elections are a significant aspect of our democracy, and active participation is crucial for a thriving nation. Through an active citizenry, the best chance for speeding up transformation and engendering accountability can be entrenched.

Conclusion: United in purpose for a better South Africa 

In conclusion, South Africa faces challenges that demand action and unity. The legacy of the UDF must serve as a source of inspiration, reminding us of the power of united action and non-racialism. Rebuilding civic organisations and empowering communities are crucial steps in fostering an active citizenry. We must protect our Constitution and democracy by holding leaders accountable and actively participating in shaping the future of our nation.

In these 40 years since the clarion call of UDF UNITES, APARTHEID DIVIDES, we once more are compelled by the forces of history and circumstances to come together, set aside our differences, and work towards a common purpose — a South Africa where all citizens can thrive. As we navigate the complexities of the present times, let us draw strength from our history, embrace hope, and commit ourselves to building a better tomorrow for future generations. 

United, we can overcome the challenges and create a nation that upholds the values of justice, equality, and inclusivity. The time to act is now. Let us rise to the occasion and renew the spirit of unity and hope in our beloved South Africa.

Murphy Morobe, UDF40 National Steering Committee Member