The word ‘citizen’ tends to be thrown around quite carelessly without many of us taking the time to ask, how can we be good citizens? And what does it even mean to be a citizen? Margie Jansen shares how she’s grappling with her citizenship.
I am a South African citizen. I know this – I have the green ID book to prove it – but whenever someone brings up what it means to be an ‘active citizen’ I often feel like the least qualified person in the room. I don’t even think I have a firm grasp on the way in which our democracy works! And I certainly don’t think that I’m an expert on our nation’s social ills.
So who am I to address the root causes of poor sanitation in Khayelitsha? I’m just a Wynberg-er with an unforgivably weak command of isiXhosa, let alone a deep understanding of what seems like a completely separate country on the other side of the M5.
I often ask myself, “How can I be an active citizen when nearly 20 years after the end of Apartheid, I still live a life that is severed from the majority of my fellow citizens’ daily experience?”
I’m working this question out on a daily basis. Partly because it’s my job as the coordinator of Micah Challenge South Africa, but mostly because I really care.
This is what I’ve got so far: I am a citizen. I’m sometimes a client, a customer, a voter, but I’m always a citizen. I’m part of this difficult-to-get-your-head-around, 50+ million strong community.
I may be white, my father may be an Afrikaner, I may not speak isiXhosa, I may drive a car, and I may have the luxury of crafting my vocation… I may be a minority for all of these reasons, but I am still a South African citizen.
And being a citizen inherently gives me the right to stand up for what I believe in and to fight against what I don’t. It gives me the right to vote in public servants in the upcoming general elections, and to keep those elected leaders to account afterwards. It gives me the right to work and serve for the common good, and not only in order to sustain my own existence.
I was recently reminded of a well-known fable about a villager who is standing on the bank of a river when he sees a baby floating down the stream. He jumps in to rescue the baby. But soon another baby comes floating down the river.
And then, another.
In no time at all there are so many babies being rescued from the river, it warrants starting an orphanage to take care of them all. Only later does someone think to ask: “Why are the babies coming down the river? Who is throwing them in?”
Why am I telling you this story? Well, because I believe it can help us understand what it means to be an active citizen. As citizens, we need to be asking the kinds of questions that challenge ourselves and our leaders to, as Tearfund so beautifully puts it, “Change behaviours, attitudes and policies that perpetuate inequality and deny God’s will for human flourishing.”
Along with loving mercy (Micah 6:8) —rescuing the drowning babies of our day and setting up ‘foster programmes’ to see to their well-being—acting justly is an equally necessary, biblical response that all Christians are called to be involved in.
This can all seem overwhelming at first but one of the simplest ways to start flexing your citizen muscle is to join what is already happening.
Micah Challenge is a global movement, active in over 40 countries, that mobilises communities to hold world leaders accountable to their promises. This year, in light of the G20 meeting to be held in Brisbane, Australia in 2014, we are embarking on a journey to shine a light on corruption through the Exposed campaign.
Globally, we are gathering 1 million signatures, which will aid our Australian partners (World Vision Australia and Micah Challenge Australia, amongst others) in getting the issue of corruption on the agenda of the G20 meeting. (Sign the Global Call here)
On home soil, the Micah Challenge hopes to inspire, educate and equip ordinary Christians to actively participate in our country’s democracy. (Like our Facebook page and sign up to receive our mailers for updates)
This is just one practical way you can team with other people already asking these questions to discover ways you can take action.
I am a citizen is an identity statement. It’s a new way of seeing my role in my community and my country, and how this plays out in my walk as a Christian.
What does this statement mean to you?
– Margie is the coordinator of Micah Challenge South Africa. You can find out more about Micah Challenge on their website, www.micahchallenge.org.za.