Active Citizenship in the New South Africa: Between Liberal and Ubuntu Conceptions of the Good Citizen

by Seale, Wade, PhD Candidate in Philosophy, University of Malaga

At the dusk of apartheid around the early 1990s, South Africans were inspired by the prospect of freedom in the New South Africa. This inspiration was fuelled by the fact that for the last few centuries the vast majority of citizens had suffered racial oppression at the hands of the White minority, and now the prospect of democracy and individual rights for all would pave the way to the promised land. After two decades, South Africans find themselves in the teething process any young democracy endures, amongst others, because of the tension often arising out of traditional value systems such as Ubuntu on the one hand and Western, typically-liberal value systems on the other. This is particularly relevant in discussions about the role of the citizen.

What is the role of the citizen in the New South Africa? What informs ideas about the role of citizens and active citizenship? How do traditional conceptions of the citizen compare with Western, liberal conceptions? How does the New South African negotiate these? What were some of the ideas held by South Africans of what constituted the good citizen in the early 1990s and how have some of these ideas fared over the past two decades in real terms? Have citizens embraced acceptable standards of civic participation or are they content with outsourcing their democratic responsibilities to political parties?

This paper seeks to explore different conceptions of the citizen in the New South Africa, paying close attention to tensions which arise out of Western, liberal conceptions on the one hand and more traditional conceptions of the concept as informed by Ubuntu, on the other.

 

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