Miscellaneous Items

from 2013

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Many Questions, Few Answers

The Role of Students in Civil Society and the Launch of UCT’s First Civic Week.

– Neroli Price, Varsity, 26 July 2013 15:02

UCT’s Civic Week is co-hosted by the History and Current Affairs Society (HCA), the Department of Student Affairs (DSA) and the SRC. It kicked off on Monday July 22nd. As a new addition to UCT’s calendar, Civic Week aims to raise awareness among students regarding their role in civil society.

Civic Week opened with a panel discussion entitled ‘The Role of Students in Creating an Active Civil Society’.

The panel included acclaimed actor and satirist, Pieter-Dirk Uys; City Press and former Mail & Guardian editor, Ferial Haffajee; the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela; and UCT’s DVC, Professor Crain Soudien.

Each speaker addressed the audience, before the panel was given the opportunity to respond.

Professor Crain Soudien started the discussion with questioning what it means to be an active citizen in South Africa today,"It is one thing to be civic-minded in Gugulethu, and another thing to be civic-minded in Rondebosch." he said.

Ferial Haffajee, speaking from the perspective of the press, focused on the role of the media as part of an active citizenry as both a patriot and a critic.

Citing the NGO, Equal Education and the community activist Andries Tatane, who died due to police brutality in 2011, Haffajee made the point that “active citizenry is more than just outreach.”

True to form, Uys added an element of lightness to the debate by reminding the audience that we have something very special, in the form of freedom and democracy, to protect.

He warned against allowing “democratic governments using democratic means to eat away at democracy” and encouraged students to “get out there and change the world!”

Lastly, Thuli Madonsela, drew on the examples set by Sol Plaatjie and Helen Joseph to to illustrate that civic mindedness stems from working within your skill set and material circumstances to better your own community and, in turn, your society.

Madonsela advocated for student’s role in civil society to be shaped by their access to education and social media.

“There is an opportunity in front of you, and you have to take it — and that is to think for yourself.”

When the floor was opened to questions, a sense of frustration entered the discussion as the audience grappled with the gaping divide between the ideals put forward by the speakers and the reality for many South Africans.

Despite the unresolved questions surrounding what exactly the role of students in civil society is, the event sparked debate around vital issues regarding active citizenry in South Africa today.

This is a critical discussion that all South Africans, students and civilians alike, should be having and Civic Week was able to successfully bring it to UCT.

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