CONFLICT ARISING: Wits security had to step in when ANC and DA  supporters faced off.

TENSION ARISING: Wits security had to step in when things got a little tense between ANC and DA supporters at one of the Great Debates. Photo: Anazi Zote

WITS played host to a first-0f-their-kind series of political debates in the lead up to to South Africa’s elections on May 7.

The purpose of the debates was to provide a platform for  discourse to take place between political parties and the general public. We take a look back at some of the key issues that were raised and discussed at the debates.

Nkandla: a case of state denialism?

The issue of public money being spent on President Jacob Zuma’s private home in Nkandla was a hot topic on the first night of the debate. ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe rejected accusations of corruption.

“Nkandla was not built with state money,” Mantashe said.

The ANC’s denialism towards state corruption set the general the tone for the first round of election debates, which left the ANC open to criticism from opposition parties.

Agang leader Mamphele Ramphele and the Democratic Alliance (DA)’s federal chair Dr. Wilmot James, both cited Mantashe’s dismissal of ANC corruption as an indication of the failing legitimacy of the ANC, setting the general the tone for the debates that were to follow.

State anarchy

Delinquent behavior was the order of the day at the second debate, when a scuffle involving ANC and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) supporters. On the stage, the ANC’s Bonisile Modise faced the DA’s Mbali Nthuli and the EFF’s Floyd Shivambu.

“Hooliganism is in the DNA of the ANC. We are not shocked that such happened,” said Shivambu in response to the conflict in the crowd.

Despite the tensions among the political parties, the debate continued with the credibility of the ANC at the front of the debate discussions

“If government has a good story to tell why hasn’t the ANC been able to secure this country and nation [after 20 years of democracy],” asked Student Representative Council (SRC) member Jamie Mighti.

Dynamite comes in small packages

Small parties in South Africa made their voices heard  in the third debate when the Congress of the People’s Farouk Cassim, Inkatha Freedom Party’s Mkhulelo Hlengwa and the United Democratic Movement’s Bantu Holomisa, articulated a ‘quality over quantity’ argument.

The little-league of political parties used the opportunity to voice their dissent towards the ANC and the largest opposition party, the DA, suggesting that their small numbers should not marginalize them.

“[It is] not about numbers, [but rather] about quality that counts in the politics of a country…Look at the numbers of big parties, they can’t even deal with their corrupt president,” said Holomisa.

Countdown to the elections

The penultimate showdown between the DA and the ANC addressed issues of race and accountability.

The DA’s Mmusi Maimane and the ANC’s Paul Mashitile went to head-to-head in war of words on the misuse of funds by government in Gauteng.

“ANC says it scans its lists for people charged with corruption but Zuma is [still] on top despite Nkandla,” said Maimane.

The final the debate marked the official countdown to the general elections.

ANC’s Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel and DA’s finance spokesperson Tim Harris discussed economic growth in light of corruption.

According to Harris, the DA could create six million jobs and cut corruption over a period of five years.

“Cutting corruption leads to jobs for all,” Harris said.

The debate concluded with both parties emphasising their shared goal of creating jobs and ensuring economic sustainability for all.

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