Towards an education for common citizenship in the post-apartheid South Africa: negotiating difference

  • Itumeleng Mekoa
  • Mokgadi Molope
Keywords: Citizenship, Education, Equality, Rights, Difference


Citizenship is a right that has been won by the vast majority of South Africans after the 1994 democratic elections. Because of the history of education under apartheid, there is powerful pressure on the education system to provide a learning context where a common citizenship can be forged and promoted. What that citizenship can be, and what might help or hinder its development is the concern of the authors of this article. This article is not an attempt to prescribe a framework for citizenship education in South Africa. Rather, it highlights the complexity of the issues involved that can impact on common citizenship. It argues for the common citizenship that validates all the identities, cultures and voices in South Africa and provides for high quality, equitable and inclusive education for all that promotes common citizenship. In the education systems of virtually every country in the developed world demands are increasingly being made for the recognition, respect and valuing of cultural differences, including ethnic, linguistic and gender difference. It is racial and ethnic differences rather than a common national culture which the apartheid curriculum was based upon, and which was intended to preserve and foster. By its exaggerated emphasis on cultural difference, the apartheid education sought to block the emergence of a common citizenship. Unlike in the developed world, therefore, which seeks to deal with difference within an expanding notion of citizenship, South Africa must to develop a common idea of citizenship from the basis of attenuated ethnic and cultural difference. It must develop citizenship across differences – including for example the national culture of a common Europe – without flouting at least some of them thereby impairing the dignity, the rights and the life-chances of people. One of the most pressing issues in consolidating a nation and a sense of belonging after a period of conflict is the development of a collective identity that unites the citizenry (Davies and Talbot, 2008). In South Africa the post-1994 period involved a dramatic re-imagination of the country from a racially divided nation to a diverse but united, non-racial nation.

Keywords: Citizenship, Education, Equality, Rights, Difference


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eISSN: 1596-9231