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Don’t pollute stream you drink from

- By Wits University

South Africa - like many other parts of the world - is a messy place, but young South Africans have the opportunity and responsibility to choose the world they live in.

Dr Elsbeth Dixon, CEO of Common Purpose South Africa, a non-profit leadership development programme in South Africa, did not have to tell any of the 308 science graduates in what a messy condition their country was in when she was the guest speaker at the graduation ceremony for the Faculty of Science on Friday, 27 March 2015.

"Whether it is energy provision, or unemployment, or how we wrestle with the land question or how we house people or how we keep them healthy, there are profound dilemmas that we face. And when you put a TV on, or read a newspaper or listen to a radio, then daily, you drink from the fire hydrant of bad news," she said.

But young South Africans have a choice of what they want their future to be like, and a responsibility to build that future.

"Yes, the world is messy. But what will you do? Will you opt out and keep your head down and disempower yourself by complaining about the state of affairs? Are you going to go with the attitude of 'They messed up, and whoever 'they' may be, 'they must fix it'?"

Young South Africans, said Dixon, have the opportunity to choose the world that they live in, but that means, making active choices, and being part of the solution.

"Are you going to make something happen, and be a master of your own destiny?"

Dixon works with and mentors leaders from various spheres of life on a daily basis and draws encouragement from their stories. Among these leaders is Steve Moreo of the North West Province who grew up with nothing, and ended up with a PhD. He is now the Bishop of the Anglican Church of Johannesburg.

Others are leaders in their community, such as Mphumi Ntsangase, a sangoma and a mother in Thokoza who was elected as chair of her child’s school governing body. In the three years that she was involved in the school, she helped raise the pass rate from below 20%, to one in the very high 90s.

There are many ways to begin to make a constructive contribution, said Dr. Dixon.

"Will you give extra lessons to a young person who needs it? Will you write letters to the newspaper about issues that should be raised and debated? Or will you simply obey the laws of the country, even when there isn't a policeman watching?" she asked.

"We are co-creators of the world we live in," said Dixon, encouraging the graduates to play a positive role in the country.

"Sitting back is polluting the stream you want to drink from.”