Active citizenship is about having the will

Thousands of people took part in the Mandela Remembrance Walk and Run to the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Jacques Naude African News Agency (ANA)

South Africans are well-known the world over for their tenacity to achieve the unimaginable in the face of adversity or where any person would easily give up, given the hurdles normally associated with hardship. One of the greatest characteristics we see daily here at home is how so many people are always willing to go the extra mile and help those who can’t help themselves. We have such people in abundance. They are celebrated and acknowledged for their deeds by all South Africans who recognise their brave, open and giving hearts.

This past week the influential Time magazine named Caster Semenya, Trevor Noah and President Cyril Ramaphosa as some of the most influential people in the world. These are South Africans whose shine is well recognised around the world. They are the kind of citizens who keep on, in great exemplary way, show what we are capable of as a nation. We also celebrated our very own Thuso Mbedu  for making history with landing a leading role in Hollywood series “The Underground Railroad”.

On 27 April, we will be celebrating twenty five years of our democracy. This is a notable celebration and we should rally millions of other South Africans out there to be the next Caster or Trevor. To the ones who didn’t know that there are a lot of Mandela’s in South African, now they know. We need more of such brand ambassadors who keep on raising our flag and getting it noted globally.

Other South Africans we continue to look at for inspiration are the likes of Bulelani Balabala and Vincent Khosa. These are two gentlemen who recently showed us they not only possess a will to go all the way out and assist, but they can also inspire those around them and get their communities to believe in them. Balabala was recently honoured by Rob Davies, the Minister of Trade and Industry, at the 6th annual South African Premier Business Awards, hosted by Davies’ department together with Proudly South African and Brand South Africa. Balabala embodies what it means to be an inspiration as he has shown in his work in entrepreneurship and youth development programmes.

What we need are more women and men like Balabala who, in true South African spirit, can say yes, we have done a lot in the past twenty-five years, but what can I do as a rallying call to improve the lives of those around me? We have such characters who possess skill, rigour and order to go all the way and find solutions to various challenges that continue to hamper the progress of our communities. As a leading light at the Township Entrepreneur Alliance, Balabala has helped over 9800 township and rural entrepreneurs and more than 25 000 high school students.

There is no excuse in finding your inspiration – use an exemplary person like Balabala. Then you get someone of utter bravery like Khosa. This is someone who said “I will mute the screaming noises around me and risk my life so that I can save another “. Despite the flooded Jukskei River in Alexandra, north of Johannesburg, Khosa saw it fit to reach out to a child that is not his but a child being raised by the whole community.

And save Mpilo Ngubane he did. This is the kind of a South African who we applaud, and we can proudly say today – a child is alive because of the selflessness Khosa displayed. Khosa’s story is one celebrated and shared by many. It’s a heart-warming story showing will and inspiration and calling on humanity to do better. One certainty is that millions of South Africans, and most people outside this country, would like to see us prospering and fixing the bugs that keeps us awake at night. That is clearly shown in recent research, conducted by MarkData and African Response on behalf of Brand SA, where South Africans have called on us as Brand SA to continue being about the people, diversity, culture, the rich heritage, nature and language.

While there is appreciation of what the general South African media has achieved and contributed to our constitutional democracy, the research participants pointed out the negativity that normally comes with consuming the media. We will always call on the media to be independent and critical, but we also call on the Fourth Estate to focus on more positive stories of the likes of Balabala and Khosa. There are more of their ilk out there. We owe it ourselves to continue telling the revered South African story and to find others who inspire and change lives of those living around them. While we call on the media to play their part, the research has also shown the media can also help as we seek to restore our “national pride, national achievement, and certainty in social and state institutions.”

We entirely agree there is a lot that makes South Africa remarkable and inspiring at most times and equally there are those that despair about our future. We are a young democracy that continues to learn, unlearn and relearn and what is appreciated are the millions of South Africans who still believe we can still fix what is broken and keep spirit of a nation united in diversity alive. It is up to us to play our part and be part of what puts South Africa’s image in a positive manner.


Sithembile Ntombela is the acting Chief Marketing Officer at Brand South Africa which is the official marketing agency responsible for managing the Nation brand reputation.