Looking back at the Wits ‘Great Debates’


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.




Young people ambivalent about the vote

SERIOUS TALK: Andrew Gasnolar (Agang), Dali Mpofu (EFF), Mmusi Maimane (DA) and Fikile Mbalula (ANC) (from left to right) answer questions at a youth debate that focused on the theme, "Why do you deserve my vote?". Photo: Tracey Ruff

SERIOUS TALK: Political party representatives Andrew Gasnolar (Agang), Dali Mpofu (EFF), Mmusi Maimane (DA) and Mawethu Rune (ANC) (from left to right) answer questions at a youth debate that focused on the theme, “Why do you deserve my vote?” Photo: Tracey Ruff

 by Ilanit Chernick and Tracey Ruff

Young voters had a chance to question political heavy-hitters at a debate on Tuesday but many of the youth still expressed ambivalence about who they would vote for.

The debate, called “Why, do you deserve my vote?”, was held at Jozi Hub at 44 Stanley on Tuesday afternoon and gave young people the chance to ask questions to candidates from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), ANC, Democratic Alliance (DA) and Agang.

Musician Simon Tshukudu voiced the opinion of many of the young people present when he said he was uncertain about who to vote for because “none of the political parties running keep their promises” and he was concerned about “corruption within the parties.”

[pullquote]“No one has been that impressive or awe-inspiring,”[/pullquote]

However, despite his ambivalence, Tshukudu said he attended the debate because he wanted to “voice his opinion about issues in the country”.

Tuesday’s debate focused on addressing the youth’s lack of participation in the upcoming election and the great amount of voter apathy among the youth. In addition to being held at Jozi Hub, six students from across the country were chosen to participate in the debate via Google Hangout.

DA Gauteng premier candidate Mmusi Maimane said was encouraging the youth to vote because “it’s a South African’s right” to do so.

“We would like to build a country that is inclusive of all, including young people, especially the 1.6 million youth [in Gauteng] who can’t find work.”

The EFF’s Dali Mpofu said there was a “problem with the youth” and he hoped to “interest young people who are undecided to get involved and participate”.

 POLITICS OF FUN: The EFF's Dali Mpofu and the DA's Mmusi Maimane share a lighthearted moment at a youth debate held on Tuesday afternoon. Photo: Tracey Ruff

POLITICS OF FUN: The EFF’s Dali Mpofu and the DA’s Mmusi Maimane share a lighthearted moment at a youth debate held on Tuesday afternoon. Photo: Tracey Ruff

ANC representative Mawethu Rune said he did not agree that the youth were apathetic because ANC Youth League members were winning SRC elections in universities. “[This] shows more young people are getting involved in mainstream politics”.

Following the debate, many students were still ambivalent about the election. Student entrepreneur Tebogo Photoane told Wits Vuzuzela that he was still unsure who to vote for.

“No one has been that impressive or awe-inspiring,” Photoane said.

Former Wits student Mashokane Mahlo, however, said she had done a lot of thinking about her vote and had decided on what party to support.

“I know who I’m voting for, but my decision was changed recently because of new information I received,” said Mahlo. “It took a long time for me to decide.”


Women caught in a political patriachy

South Africa is stuck in a space where women politicians are the target for unfair gender-based criticism and humiliation.

This was the subject of a discussion at Wiser on Thursday called“The trouble of being a female in politics” with a panel composed of Rebecca Davis from the Daily Maverick, Eusebius McKaiser from Power FM and journalist and Wiser fellow Khadija Patel.

Davis wrote an article for Daily Maverick last week on the special problems for women in politics. The article, which caused wide debate, addressed the way the South African media and society as a whole dealt with the merger between the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Agang and their respective female leaders, Helen Zille and Mamphela Ramphele.

The press conference was marked with a kiss between Zille and Ramphele, demonstrating their long friendship. But the panelists pointed out that the kiss soon became a meme, and was compared to acts of lesbianism and sexual provocation.

The merger soon failed but Davis noted that criticism of Zille and Ramphele made hay of the two leaders being women.

“Let’s face it, the DA-Agang merger was disastrous, but the fact that they were women should have been irrelevant.”

“This suggests that there is an illegitimacy to women owning the public space in South Africa,” said Davis.

Both the DA and Agang have also been criticized for being too “top heavy” with female leadership.

However, Davis said a political party with an all-male leadership is never recognized for its “weirdness” or criticized for being “too masculine”.

McKaiser believes that South African politics does not have a problem with a lack of female representation. He argues some of the best performing politicians are female, a fact that is often overlooked. McKaiser uses African Union chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as an example of a woman succeeding in politics. But McKaiser adds that she has yet to make a public mistake and therefore has been spared gendered criticism.

Patel said she was personally pained by the gendered discourse used on women. “It is already hard for a woman to be in politics without these remarks hoisted on you.”

An example of this would be the press referring to Ramphele as “gogo”, a term which helped describe her as an old and confused woman, when she is actually younger than President Jacob Zuma. The fact that he is old is seen as a political advantage and an indicator of accumulated wisdom instead of senility, Patel said.


Youth look for hope in Agang

The young supporters, who came to the launch of Mamphela Ramphele’s new political party, hope she will help them find jobs.

“I have a degree; I’m struggling to get a job. I am hoping that she’ll help me get a job,” said Ndivhuwo Tshaduli, (24).

Agang was launched at the Pretoria show grounds today and attracted thousands of young South Africans clad in white t-shirts.

Another supporter Junior Mofomme said she’s been unemployed since 2005, “I have a tertiary qualification. I can’t get a real job”. Mofomme said she hope Ramphele will bring about change.

[pullquote align=”right”]“The leaders of this current government set an appalling example that others follow”[/pullquote]

In her speech Ramphele told the crowd “20 years is too long to wait for jobs,” and that “this government is destroying our economy and our society.”

“The failure of the education system is robbing young people of their futures and is handicapping the progress of our country”.

Matric student, Martin Mathebula (18) said he will vote for Agang because he wanted an “equal education”.

“Agang means let’s built South Africa, that means equal education.  I am tired of waiting,” said Mathebula

Ramphele said she was inspired by a burning ambition to expect excellence in education: “If we upgrade the education system and get the economy moving we can start to tackle the poverty and despair that are at the heart of our social problems and are the root causes of crime.”

She said that corruption was at the heart of the problems South Africa is facing.

“The leaders of this current government set an appalling example that others follow,” said Ramphele.

“We deserve to have a President who knows that it is wrong to steal money meant for RDP houses to build himself a R206 million palace.”

Unemployed Huitsimang Sethunya (21), said she hoped Ramphele would finish the work the African National Congress (ANC) started but is failing to complete.

Agang is born – Build South Africa

Agang is born - Build South Africa

Anti-apartheid activist and ex-partner of Steve Biko, Dr Mamphele Ramphele, announced the launch of a "new political platform" called Agang this morning at Constitutional Hill. Ramphele said Agang, which means "Build South Africa" declares a war on corruption and promises to be an inclusive party.

Storified by · Mon, Feb 18 2013 02:16:38

Mamphele's announcement ended weeks of speculation about her future. In late January, Ramphele said she was "entering politics to save her country" but there was no official declaration of a party. She chose to make the announcement at the country's iconic Constitutional Hill Women's Prison in Johannesburg, adorned in traditional Xhosa wear.
#Ramphele Photo: Ramphele in action after big announcement. http://pic.twitter.com/QLDhndDQEWN Reporter
BREAKING: Dr Mamphela #Ramphele enters politics; announces formation of a 'political party platform'. Statement just in.Adriaan Basson
Opposition parties seek to dip into Ramphele's expected political ...3 hours ago ... Ahead of Mamphela Ramphele's big announcement, opposition parties have not ruled out the possibility of jointly con...
Ramphele to launch platform | City PressCity Press1 day ago ... Struggle heavyweight and academic Mamphela Ramphele is expected to launch a “political platform” tomorrow, which she will...
#Ramphele Corruption hurts poor South Africans the most. We have failed to transform economy so it gives all dignity and opportunity.EWN Reporter
There were mixed reactions on Twitter to the launch of the party.
#Ramphele So far deep criticism of ANC, no enunciation of her vision, strategy, org structure or support base. This is key for her survival.Justice Malala
RT @carienduplessis: So no questions for #Ramphele right now. No conversation right now. That's a great and democratic way to launch a party. NotMelany Bendix
@MaimaneAM says DA welcomes important step in realignment of politics #Ramphele http://bit.ly/W52JUwDemocratic Alliance
RT @AdriaanBasson: #Ramphele uses phrases like 'we will', 'we are committed' and 'we want to'. Def more than a NGO type thing.@c_v
The official website of Agang went live just minutes after the announcement: