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Are you a good citizen?

I once watched a movie where a computer programme controlled a small town called Black River. Its trademark line was: “You will be a good citizen.” It didn’t ask; it simply told you. What makes a good citizen? Paying your taxes on time? Giving to charity? Keeping the environment clean? Better yet, being a good ambassador for your country? Or maybe, just maybe, helping choose who will lead your country into what might possibly be an uncertain future?

The Student Representative Council (SRC) elections are around the corner; soon people will start campaigning for my vote. They will promise me the world in order for me to tick their name or that of their party come election day. Throughout my undergraduate years on campus I found the act of voting tedious and pointless, seeing as the same people always won. They never did a good job in power, in my opinion, and until my third year I wasn’t quite sure what the SRC did. I did not take responsibility for the people who represented students to the varsity’s managerial board.

In a recent lecture I asked my students if they would be voting in the upcoming SRC elections. Only a handful showed possible interest, depending on the contenders. When they were asked how many would be voting in the national election, only one person raised his hand. One person in a class of 120 students; 119 students felt they needn’t bother as their votes wouldn’t count. One hundred and nineteen!

We have become a society of couch complainers. We sit in our houses and complain about the state of the world, but we are not willing to do anything to change it. Young people today are caught in their (our) seemingly impossible lives of academia and a quest for money and fame. They (we) have allowed things that are important seem to slip away from them (us).

People talk about not voting as though it were acceptable. Change doesn’t happen because one wishes it; change happens because enough individuals are willing to put themselves last and everyone else first. Average university students do not vote in the SRC election simply because they feel it does not affect them.

It does affect them: those chosen to serve on the SRC are their voices to the university management; they get to decide how many parties students have in an academic year and who makes the final cut on the exclusion appeal list. There is so much apathy around institutions of higher learning, which raises the question: If today’s younger generation is the leaders of tomorrow, how can they lead when they refuse to help pick the leaders of today?