Advancing active citizenship: A Citizenship Academy as a means to strengthen local democracy?

Isandla Institute hosted a Roundtable dialogue on 21 June 2012 titled "Advancing active citizenship: A Citizenship Academy as a means to strengthen local democracy?"

The consolidation of political participation and representation presupposes an active, engaged public that is able to claim rights, negotiate priorities and accept negotiated outcomes. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, dominant political cultures and institutional realities in South Africa militate against such an active citizenry. In the formal political arena of representative democracy, issue of substance tend to degenerate into mudslinging across party political lines. And the highly lauded edifice of public participation in local government is more often than not reduced to a symbolic, procedural and instrumentalist approach which at best results in wish lists where communities have little exposure to constraints, tradeoffs or priority setting. In addition to service delivery concerns, the lack of real influence on local decision making, combined with weak and seemingly unresponsive local leadership, are critical factors that serve to fuel recurring spates of community protests across the country.

The National Planning Commission (NPC) has been at the forefront of calling for active citizenship, which has found resonance with a wide range of actors and stakeholders. However, given the fractured nature of communities and weak non-partisan leadership at community level, there is a need to strengthen relevant competencies and capacities to enable the notion of active citizenship to become a reality. It is in this light that the idea of a citizenship academy as mooted in the 2011 National Development Plan is intriguing and potentially appealing.

Isandla Institute prepared a Discussion Paper before the event in order to clarify some of the key issues and questions raised by both the notions of active citizenship and the citizenship academy. This has been combined with a Roundtable Report in order to give an overview of the discussions that occurred during the day. The combined document can be found here.

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