SAWIP inspires, develops and supports annual teams of interns and its whole alumni body to bring about community development through social projects amongst the most disadvantaged and marginalised South Africans.

Active Citizenship and Leading from the Back

by Daniel Hagen
Daniel Hagen
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on Apr 18 in Experience 2 Comments

Much public discourse in South Africa is dedicated to criticising the short-comings of our politicians and leaders; making the fair argument that as our leaders, they have a greater responsibility to serve this country and set an example for the rest of us to follow. Indeed, a great deal of active citizenship in this country is justifiably directed at holding our government accountable for any acts of corruption, mismanagement, or potential infringement of our rights. Unfortunately, due to our history, active citizenship carried out in opposition to the government has been commonplace; as for decades South Africans have had to work against a system which oppressed them.


However, I would like to see a different kind of active citizen making more headlines in South Africa. I recently had the pleasure of visiting an inspirational project being carried out in Khayelitsha called the Iliso Care Society. This project has grown immensely over the years, however it was started by a brave woman named Vivian Zilo who, despite her own challenges, identified a simple need in her community and began addressing it with her own resources. Instead of being discouraged by the challenges faced by her community, the past injustices which contributed to them, and the failure of the government to deliver on its promises, Mama Vivian took action in her own capacity as a South African citizen. As she began her work, others in her community were drawn to the project; with the project now being supported by a number of local volunteers who simply followed her example in service as an active citizen. Here I saw a fantastic example of an active citizen leading from the back; taking simple yet effective steps on a local level with far-reaching consequences. If Mama Vivian can affect change in her community, then so can all of us.


We can bemoan the state of our leadership with justification, however we must also understand that our leaders are citizens and so are we – the responsibility to serve this country does not rest with the politicians alone. South Africa may miss the leadership examples of the giants like Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Jan Smuts, and A.B. Xuma; however I would contend that South Africa needs example-driven leadership from its citizens even more. We need more Vivian Zilos.


Our politicians have been given the enormous task of guiding this country into a better future. Let us, as active citizens, show them how it is done.  



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Daniel Hagen

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sally Wednesday, 18 April 2012 · Edit Reply

Daniel, a great call to action to us all. Yes, leadership happens in a myriad different ways. Hope there is a real response which adds significantly to all the good that is out there.

Brian Currin Saturday, 28 April 2012 · Edit Reply

Daniel you make an extremely valid point. We need far more doers, far more action, far more inspirational servant leadership at every level. Yes, as active citizens we need to hold political leadership accountable but we too have a duty to make a contribution at whatever level we operate. Can you imagine how this country would take off we had thousands and thousands of Vivian Zilos.

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