New Year's resolution no.1: Be a better citizen in 2013

09 January 2013

Most South Africans see the New Year as a fresh start. It is a symbolic time to clean out the old and replace it with new aspirations and dreams. Some make quick mental resolutions, whilst others pen long lists of things that need to change. No matter the format, the intention remains the same: I want to better myself or my circumstances in the coming year.

As Government, we cannot help but wonder how many South Africans include in their resolutions a resolution to be a good and active citizen in 2013 committed to making South Africa a better place for all who live in it. Such a citizen is one who pulls his/her weight, takes responsibility for their actions and also considers what effect their actions or inactions will have on other people with whom they interact

The recent road death carnage experienced over the festive season in our country speaks volumes about whether or not we are indeed good and active citizens. Reports suggest that the number of road fatalities this Christmas is possibly higher than last years. Government is so often criticized - despite its many efforts to make drivers knowledgeable of the rules of the road and safety precautions that can be undertaken.

The Department of Transport and South African Police Service (SAPS) cannot be seen as the two institutions that are responsible for ensuring discipline on the roads. As good and active citizens, it is the responsibility of all road users to realize and accept that they should not drink and drive, that going onto the road whilst under the influence of alcohol poses a danger not only to themselves but to other road users.

Furthermore, good and active citizenship means that even passengers have a responsibility to say to a driver who is under the influence of alcohol, ‘don’t drive you are under the influence’. Safety on our roads is a collective responsibility of all who use our roads - drivers, passengers and pedestrians alike. Most importantly, good citizenship on the roads is not just a Christmas and Easter holiday thing, it is a daily thing.  It is being a responsible citizen!

A resolution to be an active citizen also means getting involved in our communities; constructively tackling problems rather than complaining; playing a part in the decision making process, particularly on public policy and services; and help bringing about positive change.

South Africans are generally critical of the education system in the country. However, being an active citizen means doing more than just voicing an opinion but being part of the solution.  Government cannot emphasise enough that parents must be involved from the first day of school. Parents should ensure that their children are on time for school; check that the school transport is roadworthy; and that their children have the correct textbook.  Any concerns about unroadworthy government school transport; incorrect or lack of textbooks, or tardy teachers, should be taken up with the principal or the relevant provincial education department or Department of Basic Education.

Parents should therefore be involved with their children’s education; monitor their progress; understand school processes; attend school functions; and where possible consider offering time and energy to the school.  If you don’t have a child attending school find a child to mentor or help with their homework or even assist financially if you have the means.

As part of being an active citizen familiarise yourself with government’s public participation processes. If an issue affects you, comment on the green paper and attend public hearings. Be a South African that is aware, involved and take part in the country’s democratic processes. Take an active constructive interest in the running of the country.

This must be the year where we work with government in ensuring that we all contribute towards the reducing inequalities and poverty within our communities.  You could start with yourself, by ensuring your behaviour towards society is exemplary: don’t litter; drive responsibly; re-use and recycle; participate in improving your community. You could also commit to raising community problems with a municipal councillor and work with them, other community members and local businesses to resolve issues in your area.

Additionally, South Africans should partner with their local police station to create safer communities. Government cannot fight the scourge of crime alone. We therefore encourage South Africans to volunteer at their local police station and join their local Community Police Forum (CPF). If you know of criminals or illegal activities in your area, report it to Crime Stop or your nearest police station. Furthermore, do not support illegal activities by buying pirated and counterfeited DVDs, CDs, cigarettes and clothing. Additionally, never shy away from blowing the whistle on corruption.

Let us all contribute towards protecting the rights of the vulnerable within our communities. Government calls on South Africans to ensure that we treat women and children with respect. Let us not look away when the women, children and the disabled are abused. If you know of someone that is in violent relationship, reach out and offer support. There is no excuse for child abuse, report it to authorities so that they can assist the child.

A lot of South Africans might have made New Year’s resolutions about their health. Government is backing you 100 per cent in your drive to stop smoking; to lose weight; cut down on alcohol and convert to healthier eating habits. These changes could lead to preventable diseases which cost government millions of rands every year.

In the coming year commit to regularly test so as to know your HIV/AIDS status.   Parents must take it upon themselves and educate their children about responsible sexual behaviour and not leave it to teachers.

Government would like to wish all South Africans a happy New Year. If a journey starts with one step, let’s take that step now and make 2013 a year we can all be proud of through our active participation and in the process and activities that define the South Africa which we all want to live in.

Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS)