BY NOT protesting against the decay of social services and public schooling, all South Africans are to blame for high rates of crime and unemployment among youths, says businesswoman and anti- apartheid activist Dr Mamphela Ramphele.

Speaking at the annual Helen Suzman lecture in Cape Town this week Ramphele urged South African youth to engage in peaceful protest against the moral decay of society "as loud as we did (under apartheid) - even against laws that could have you shot".

"We've had shocking statements made in our public sphere. What kind of ethics allows young people to say Kader Asmal should just lie down and die? In the Free State a young man said (University of Free State Rector Professor) Jonathan Jansen should be shot dead? For what? For making a decision?

"That's the morality of the group which thinks this is a good thing. But what morals make you silent in the face of these words? We should really be outraged," she said.

Ramphele said this was the result of allowing the schooling system to decay to a point where a high number of youths are not attending school anymore.

"And you wonder why you have higher electric fences and youths who will take your cellphone and come back to stab you. They are filled with rage. And you have failed them. We are responsible for the situation we are in now."

Ramphele said these were all signs that SA was at a crossroads, struggling to emerge from the growing pains of its young democracy.

"The issue we are faced with is to rediscover the ideals so many people have dreamt of. We have to (acknowledge) that we have grossly underestimated what is needed to become a society.

"We underestimated the diversions in the journey, pre-1994, that has brought us here and the foundations of our democracy is only emerging now. But we are compelled to double our efforts."

The most telling wound left over from the past is the destruction of family lives, especially among black Africans .

"The social pains of those marginalised by extreme poverty . continue to haunt us and they are crying out for attention. In our streets and villages they are tired of waiting for the fruits of democracy. They are tired of RDP homes and young officials disrespecting them.

"The media is full of reports of corruption and those in authority failing to account for resources. We live in hope that President Jacob Zuma's promise to stop corruption will come to pass. All this corruption. rubs salt in the wounds .."

But Ramphele remained hopeful. "I believe that these challenges are giving us an opportunity for a new beginning. What's needed to make our democracy work is now clear to us. Much is asked of us to make this democracy one that characterises integrity in public life."

Ramphele said Suzman was an example of a person who had taken on the role of the individual, standing against the collectiveness of a group that turned against the rights of black people.

"Helen Suzman was the embodiment of integrity. Her's was a tough time in humanity, but she did not shy away from her responsibilities. For Nelson Mandela it was a commitment to ideals. For Steve Biko it was to honour an ideal . worth living for. All science calls on us to take stock and ask what we have done .."