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Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  23 Oct 2014

SUSTAINABILITY: Active citizenry is a prerequisite for sustainable development.


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This is according to Ms Maria Ramos, Group Chief Executive of Absa and Chief Executive Africa of Barclays. She was the speaker at the second Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert Honorary Lecture, hosted by the Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert (FVZS) Institute for Student Leadership Development at Stellenbosch University (SU) on Friday night (26 April 2013.)

The Institute is an initiative of the University’s HOPE Project.

In her speech Ms Ramos said that in the light of Freedom Day, to be celebrated on 27 April, it is “appropriate to ask ourselves: what more still needs to be done to fulfil our dreams of what a free and democratic country can, and should, deliver?”

She said that as a country we have come a long way. This includes putting the country on a sound financial footing, tackling the racially-skewed distribution patterns of the past, stabilising the economy and broadening access to services to millions.

“But we still have a great deal more to do. There is widespread agreement that, nearly two decades into democracy, we remain a highly unequal society where too many people live in poverty and too few work. Poverty is a reality for millions of South Africans. The South African Child Gauge 2012 estimates that six out of 10 children go to bed hungry every night. Unemployment is unacceptably high at nearly 25% and our education system is producing unsatisfactory outcomes.”

The apartheid spatial divide continues to dominate the landscape, she said. A large proportion of people feel the odds are stacked against them; they are locked in a cycle of poverty and that they cannot offer their children a better life.

“For far too many South Africans, opportunity is still determined by birth, not by ability, education and hard work,” she said.

“This is why we need to push harder to transform the economy and to find ways to propel the country towards more sustainable development. I believe that we will not be able to achieve this unless we grasp, fully, what it means to take our rightful place as active citizens in building a fairer and more just society.”

She explained that sustainable development is development driven by resilient economic growth. It is however growth that is inclusive to ensure that rising levels of inequality are reversed and poverty is eradicated; and growth that is greener and is less environmentally damaging.

“We have yet to realise a society that builds on the capabilities of our people. Capabilities lie at the heart of the connection between active citizenship and development. Capabilities include social opportunities ranging from education, health care, public transport as well as social security and safety nets. They are the drivers of sustainable growth and they are the enablers that give individuals the where-with-all to better their own lives.”

She added that the state has a responsibility to develop the necessary capabilities for its citizens, but it cannot do so on its own. “We, as citizens, have a role to play. I believe we are up to the task. We all recognise that we need a step change if we are going to propel the country forward and replace inequality with greater equity, poverty with prosperity. The power to achieve that step change lies with us.

“I sincerely believe that by becoming active citizens we will unleash creativity and innovation that will enable us to propel South Africa forward. I believe that by becoming agents of change we will be able to break through the constraints we have been bequeathed and overcome them. If we harness our energies and insights collectively I believe we can find creative solutions and break the cycle of poverty and inequality.”

Citizens should accept that they have both rights and responsibilities. “The mistake we often make is that we are more vocal about our rights and pay less attention to our responsibilities. In exercising our rights the temptation, for all of us, is to place the responsibility of leading on our 'leaders', but the responsibility to lead lies with us. This is what I mean by active citizenry.”

She concluded by saying that we all have a part to play in making sure we realise the vision of a social order that is more equitable and where poverty is eradicated. “We can do this, but only if we hold one another accountable to this vision and we set it as the benchmark against which we measure each other. If we do this, I believe we will bequeath our children, and their children, a very different country to the one we inherited.”

In welcoming guests, Prof Russel Botman, Rector and Vice-Chancellor, said that leadership development has become a core function of higher education. “It is no longer enough for universities just to provide graduates with an academic qualification. We have to empower our students with the skills they need to change the world. At Stellenbosch we strive to produce graduates who can take the lead in society as responsible and critical citizens in a democratic social order. We are educating thought leaders for the future.

“The Institute allows us to develop the leadership abilities of our students so that they can become change agents in society, driving the transformation of their world. The Institute is the first of its kind in higher education in the country, and it is doing ground-breaking work.”

At the event, Dr Leslie van Rooi, Head of the FVZS Institute, said that young people are making a difference. “Students have a vision of and for the future: and it is a vision with a focus. We have a role to play, big and small. This role can best be played if we have a clear vision of the future.”

The lecture was made possible with the support of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and the Abe Bailey Trust.

Stellenbosch University bestowed an honorary doctorate upon Maria Ramos in 2005. ​


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