IDASA (Institute for Democracy in Africa) and ODAC (Open Democracy Advice Centre) have launched an initiative to equip young South Africans to vote and are using the popular MXit platform.
The initiative, called smrtCitizen, helps young South African adults understand why they should vote, what their rights are and what they can do to change and shape their future. smrtCitizen is part of a larger learning initiative on MXit, called Bsmrt which has over 150 000 users across South Africa and Africa.
“smrtCitizen talks to our youth in a language that they understand. Our research shows that young people are willing and able to contribute to a better future. We have worked with democracy experts ODAC and IDASA to present meaningful and relevant information and ways to engage on a topic that is critical,” says Katherine van Wyk, programmes director with Every1Mobile, the company responsible for developing smrtCitizen.
Geared towards young adults over 18, smrtCitizen helps users uncover the complexity of becoming an active citizen by presenting entertaining and easily digestible information.
The opening page on the platform raises an important question, asking users if they think young South Africans have the power to change the world. With 96% of over 20 000 young adults over the age of 18 votingh "yes", Van Wyk believes this affirmation of responsibility is an important step in their journey to becoming concerned and active citizens who have in the past been ignored as key stakeholders by governing authorities.
The mobile platform addresses a lack of age-relevant information that is available to youth by answering questions like "what makes me a citizen", "where do my rights come from" and re-packaging the four pillars of citizenship under the name, VIVA (Vote, Informed, Vocal, Act). VIVA provides an easy guide to vote and participate in nation-building.
Other sections allow users to report incidences of injustice, to join campaigns and community action or debate groups. There is even a section on current news issues including government’s interest in passing the Secrecy Bill and xenophobia.
A critical element to smrtCitizen is to encourage a balance between young adults knowing their rights and taking responsibility for them. With this in mind, a competition was launched to reward youth with MXit Moolah, the platform’s virtual currency, for taking steps to actively improve their community or region.
“The response was overwhelming and it is very clear that South African youth can, and want to be part of shaping our future. Many were already taking part in debates and helping to upgrade their communities, and we’re just facilitating the sharing and acknowledgement of these inspiring young people’s lives,” says Van Wyk.
Although MXit, with over 32-million users, does not allow its platform to be used for political gain, it does support the value of helping young adults understand their rights and what they can do to shape their future by taking an active role in creating it.
“We welcome any initiative that provides the type of information and assistance that enhances the lives of our users and smrtCitizen fits squarely into that strategy. It is important for our youth to understand their role in building South Africa into a country that they can be proud of and we will continue to find ways to make that happen for them,” says Laura Hallam, head of MXit Cares, the division tasked with improving the lives of its users.