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.




Great Debate series ends with ANC and DA emphasising job creation

The ANC's Minister Ebrahim Patel, eNCA's host Jeremy Maggs and the DA's Tim Harris at last night's final Wits Great Debate. Photo: Bongiwe Tutu

The ANC’s Minister Ebrahim Patel, eNCA’s host Jeremy Maggs and the DA’s Tim Harris at last night’s final Wits Great Debate. Photo: Bongiwe Tutu

With just five days until the national general elections, Minister of Economic Development, Ebrahim Patel and the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) Tim Harris punted job creation at last night’s Wits Great Debate.

This was the final event in a series of five, titled “The final countdown,” with both speakers focusing on their parties’ plans for economic growth.

[pullquote]“Cutting corruption leads to jobs for all”[/pullquote]

“Our plan is to create six million real jobs,” said Harris, the DA’s Shadow Minister of Finance. “Cutting corruption leads to jobs for all.”

Patel, an African National Congress (ANC) MP, challenged Harris’ attempts to discredit the ANC’s track record in job creation. He argued that StatsSA has information showing the success of the ANC’s job creation initiatives. “The information is publicly available, I suspect the information is very embarrassing and therefore the DA has chosen not to publicise it,” he said.

When asked by Patel if the DA will reach its target of 30% Harris responded by saying that they [the DA] “the fastest growing party since 1994.”

Last elections, they got 16.7% of the vote, nationally and this election are aiming for “significantly more than that,” according to Harris.

Neither of them would commit to a specific number, although the ANC is aiming for a two thirds majority, according to Patel. Both spoke of growth and overwhelming support for their respective parties, constantly making reference to job creation.

While the DA’s “upbeat, positive” plan is to create six million real jobs, according to Harris, the ANC plans to “build on the strength of what we’ve done well and learn from our mistakes,” according to Patel.

Both Harris and Patel “blinded us all with very elegant statistics,” said debate host, Jeremy Maggs. He asked both representatives to explain exactly how their parties plan on creating “six million real jobs.” Both avoided directly answering the question and instead continued to emphasise the importance of job creation.

Harris told Wits Vuvuzela after the debate that theirs (DA) was a three-tiered plan which involves reforming the labour laws and ensuring that workers have a say as to when they go on strike. This will enable “businesses to grow and hire more workers,” he said.

ANC and DA supporters at last night's final installment in the Wits Great Debate series. Photo: Anazi Zote

ANC and DA supporters at last night’s final installment in the Wits Great Debate series. Photo: Anazi Zote


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.”


Q & A with Mbe Mbhele

As the new kid on the block, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have been getting a lot of press—good and bad- fighting to become a recognised society at Wits. Roxanne Joseph spoke to Mbe Mbhele, the coordinator of Wits EFF, and asked him…


What are your thoughts on a possible coalition between the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the EFF?

I don’t think it’s possible, because the DA fundamentally stands opposed to everything the EFF stands for. As Julius Malema said, “the EFF has only one objective in these elections, and that is to win.”

Are you a recognised society yet?

We are now a recognised society on campus. We applied and the SRC approved our application a week or two ago. SRC president Shafee Verachia stated we are now an official society at Wits.

What do you think of the SRC’s initial reaction to the EFF’s application?

The SRC stated they would not allow us to be a recognised society. They were hostile towards us and still are because we threaten the same constituency that they represent.

In the upcoming SRC elections, are you going to put candidates forward and what’s your plan in doing so?

Our conditions on the ground will determine whether or not we have EFF people in the elections. I don’t see a reason why not, though. We are for the advancement of students and in order to achieve the objectives we want to achieve, such as free and quality education for all, we need to operate within the structures [at Wits].

What do you think your presence has been like on campus and what are your plans for the next two weeks, in the run up to the elections on May 7?

We’ve been doing a lot of door-doors. Each and every conversation that we have involves campaigning and canvassing to vote for the EFF. There is a possibility that national leadership, like Floyd [Shivambu, EFF Commissar and Chief of Staff] will join us in our visits and on campus.

Does the PYA still have a presence on campus?

I think it’s unfair to speak of them, as we are focused on our own objectives, but I have not seen the PYA on campus this year. We, on the other hand, have been present and achieved things for students. For example, we opened up applications for all clubs and societies who were also denied recognition.

Do you think that will get you more votes?

Look, the response has been overwhelming. You walk around campus in your red beret and people come up to you, they want to know what the EFF is all about. We will get a lot of votes from students, as a microcosm of society.

Sell the EFF to students and young voters out there.

The EFF recognises that before we are students, we are members of communities. We are only in university for four years, but then we go out and get jobs in the real world. We need to be active participants in the economy, so our presence is not just within the borders of university. We stand for free and quality education for all, which directly relates to all students. The price of education is being commodified and students cannot afford a decent meal in the Matrix because it is outsourced. There are many issues we want to deal with on campus.

Small parties are still relevant in South Africa

WORLD DOMINATION: Small parties of the collective democracy conglomerate, are gearing up for a "radical change" in government that is accountable and transparent.  Photo: Nqobile Dludla

WORLD DOMINATION: Small parties of the Collective Democracy conglomerate, are gearing up for a “radical change” in government that is accountable and transparent, come May 7.  Pictured from left are Mkhuleko Hlengwa (IFP), Forouk Kassim (Cope) and Bantu Holomisa (UDM) Photo: Nqobile Dludla


By Anazi Zote and Lameez Omarjee

A ‘quality over quantity’ government was the unanimous call of the three political parties represented at the Great Debate (#witsdebate) held last night on the Wits education campus in Parktown.

Bantu Holomisa, of the United Democratic Movement (UDM) and a member of parliament (MP), Farouk Cassim, Congress of the people (COPE), and Mkhuleko Hlengwa of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) participated in the third debate which focused on the viability of small parties as opposition to the African National Congress (ANC) and the larger opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA).

Quality over quantity

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

In the same voice, defending their party size, Cassim, of the still relatively new COPE party, said: “We may be small in size, but not in vigour and voice. In vigour and voice we are powerful, the country hears us”.

“Whether we get the numbers or not, the IFP is here to serve … the populist agenda, which the main party is relying on, is going to be broken,” added Hlengwa.

Cassim told Wits Vuvuzela, “Mass parties world-wide are going to be extinct, they are going to be of no value because the trend of the future will be smaller parties … acting as conglomerates.”

Ethical governance 

Hlengwa emphasised that opposition parties did not exist simply to oppose but to constructively create progress.  He told Wits Vuvuzela that “if you criticise for the sake of criticising, then there will be no progress”.

All three parties echoed the sentiment of having an accountable and transparent government for the benefit of all South Africans.  “In the past five years, there has been a lack of accountability and responsibility,” said Hlengwa.

[pullquote]“This is no longer a democracy, it is a demo-crazy”[/pullquote]

Holomisa warned South Africans  not to follow the footsteps of a corrupt government because it will collapse. Small parties have a role to play in ensuring that there is no corrupt governance. “If we are quiet and we don’t expose these things, then we will be like other countries in the continent,” said Holomisa.

He also blamed the lack of votes for small parties on the misuse of government resources by the African National Congress (ANC), which relies heavily on the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) to be its [the ANC’s] mouthpiece.  “

This is no longer a democracy, it is a demo-crazy,” he said. The final installation of the Wits Great Debate happens next week Thursday and speakers are still to be announced.




Youth leaders overwhelmed by noisy support at latest Wits Great Debate

great debate

PANEL DISCUSSION: Bonisile Modise, Mbali Ntuli & Floyd Shivambu seated on stage for the Wits Great Debate. Photo: Roxanne Joseph

Intolerance reigned during the second installation of the Great Debate at Wits University last night.

Last night’s debate featured Mbali Ntuli of the DA youth wing, EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters) Chief of Staff Floyd Shivambu and ANCYL (African National Congress) coordinator Bonisile Modise all of whom could hardly be heard amid the persistent combination of boos, jeers and cheers.

The speakers struggled to make their points heard and had to wait, several times, for the audience to quieten down.

At one point, a small spat place happened between ANC and EFF members when each thought it was their turn to ask questions. Campus Control and members of the crowd were forced to intervene to stop the fracas from escalating.

[pullquote]”The ANC and the EFF continuously disrupted opposing supporters when questions were asked.” [/pullquote]

Despite the noise though, the debate continued and Witsies got the chance to ask questions related to the youth. Wits EFF member Tokelo Nhlapo asked about the cost of education and the lack of support given by the ANC to university students, with specific reference to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSAFAS).

great debate 2

ALL SMILES: a DA supporter expresses his pride for his party. Photo: Luke Matthews

SRC member, Jamie Mighti questioned the ANC’s credibility by asking: “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]”, which was cheered by both DA and EFF supporters.

The Wits Great Hall was almost filled to its capacity with a strong showing from EFF and ANC supporters who remained vocal throughout the evening.

The Great Debate series continues next week and speakers are yet to be announced.


CAMPUS NEWS: No more tickets available for Wits Great Debate


The Wits Great Debate is a series of four debates happening in the run-up to the national elections. Graphic: Wits Communications.

This week’s Great Debate will feature Fikile Mbalula (ANC) vs Mbali Ntuli (DA) vs Floyd Shivambu (EFF).

The debate takes place in the Wits Great Hall, Thursday, March 17 at 8pm.

Wits Vuvuzela has been advised that no more tickets are available for the event.

Visit the Wits University site for more detailed information.



Legislation needed to force political parties to disclose sources of funding

Panelists from left to right: Sisonke Msimang, Prof Sithembile Mbele, Lance Greyling, Greg Solik and Susan Booysen

Panelists from left to right: Sisonke Msimang, Prof Sithembile Mbele, Lance Greyling, Greg Solik and Susan Booysen speak at the Wits Club earlier today. Photo: Roxanne Joseph.

South Africans are “chasing a dream,” according to one of the panelists at a discussion hosted by the Right2Know campaign in conjunction with Wits Journalism earlier this today.

Susan Booysen, a researcher at Wits,was speaking at the Wits Club which focussed on the issue of transparency in party funding in the run-up to the national elections. The dream, according to Booysen, is the passing of legislation which will force political parties to fully disclose the sources of their funding.

The topic for the 5-person panel was “Is South African democracy becoming a one rand one vote democracy?” and each of the speakers addressed the issue of secrecy and sources of party funds. 

[pullquote]“If there is transparency, donors feel they could be victimised by the ruling party, for supporting an opposition party.”[/pullquote]

“Money is inherent in our politics,” said Greg Solik, the coordinator of My Vote Counts. “Parties need lots of money to compete with the ANC (African National Congress).”

A fear that opposition parties’ hold, according to Lance Greyling of the DA (Democratic Alliance), is that “if there is transparency, donors feel they could be victimised by the ruling party, for supporting an opposition party.”

As it stands, political party funding is distributed proportionally and equitably. This means that 90% (of public funds) is distributed according to the number of seats a party has in parliament (the ANC receives 65.7%) and the remainder is split equally among all parties, whether or not it hold seats.

Parties are prohibited from using public funds for electoral campaigns, so they tend to rely heavily on private funding, according to Prof Sithembile Mbele, a politics lecturer at the University of Pretoria.

In 2003, a group of civil society organisations made use of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) to compel parties to disclose their spending but the case was dismissed by the Cape High Court.

The parties argued they are “private entities and therefore are not required to disclose their sources of funding,” according to Mbele. However, Judge Benjamin Griesel said: “It doesn’t mean despite the case [being unsuccessful], political parties should not, as a matter of principle be compelled to disclose the details of private donations made to their parties … they should be regulated in some way.”

Sisonke Msimang of Sonke Gender Justice spoke about the impact of disclosure at a community level. She stressed the importance of disclosure for a number of reasons including the principle that “secrecy is a bad thing” and it means we have “deeply compromised service delivery.”

She said some form of legislation would give journalists and civil society the tools to better understand sources of funding for parties.” This, she said, “is important in a democracy.”

Conversations of race needed in SA

THE PANEL: Daryl Glaser, Katima Brown, Tawana Kupe, Stephen Friedman and Eusabius McKaiser held a debate on opposition parties in South African politics on Tuesday.

THE PANEL: Daryl Glaser, Karima Brown, Tawana Kupe, Stephen Friedman and Eusebius McKaiser held a debate on opposition parties in South African politics on Tuesday. Photo: Caro Malherbe

Opposition parties in South African ignore the lived experiences of race realities, concluded a panel of political experts at Wits on Tuesday night.

The panel, comprised mostly of political analysts, said that one of the challenges of a left wing party would be to articulate issues of poverty and inequality for people who experienced racial domination.

This was the consensus among the panellists debating the State of Opposition Parties.

Radio host and author Eusebius McKaiser and Wits deputy vice chancellor Professor Tawana Kupe co-chaired the event which included media executive Karima Brown, political commentator Stephen Friedman, and Professor Daryl Glaser, head of Wits’ political studies department.

Clear as mud 

McKaiser, who recently published his book, Could I Vote DA?, opened the debate by critiquing the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) stance on “the race issue”.

The root of the DA’s problem is that its position on race is as “clear as mud” in a country where race is a very important part of South Africans’ identity and discourse, he said.

Furthermore, McKaiser said DA politicians have conflicting views on policies regarding Black Economic Empowerment (BEE).

He said this comes with the DA continuously displacing conversations of race with conversations of class.

Bowling over the black voter 

The issue for the DA, as McKaiser describes it, is “how to bowl over black South Africans who are ‘gatvol’ with the African National Congress (ANC) , without running the risk of losing “the white ‘tannies’ in Krugersdorp” who aren’t and don’t want to be included in a party that is open about race.

The DA needs to buy into the social construction of race in SA and buy into BEE, he said.

Brown pointed to the strategic political blunders of opposition parties since 1994 and said she believes opposition parties have failed to be left wing. She argued that opposition parties make the mistake of using the ANC’s analysis and policies to oppose it, and instead form “pale imitations of the ANC”.

DA – a racialized party 

The DA, which Brown described as a strongly racialized party, attempted to claim struggle credentials but ultimately lacked “struggle cred” and exaggerated the significance of Helen Zille’s personal role in exposing the murder of Steve Biko.

For Brown, the ANC understood South Africa more than any other party.

Friedman continued next with the sentiment that SA did not yet have a significant left wing party. He said if SA were to have a left wing party it would be formed out of a trade union, more specifically, out of National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa).

He reminded the audience that “to many South Africans the ANC is still the party that represents liberation from racial domination.”

“70% of the population remains unorganised, excluded and voiceless despite having a vote.”  A left wing party needs an agenda whereby they attempt to organise these communities, and pay heed to their lived experiences and concerns, said Friedman.

A multiparty democracy 

According to Glaser there seemed to be an overall embrace for a multiparty democracy. However, he chose to look at parties which multiply within itself, focussing on the failed merger between the DA and Agang.

He said the decision to merge would have left them with fewer votes than they originally had. This had subsequentially left Agang lacking credibility.

During question time McKaiser pointed out that the ANC needed to take its opposition seriously and do an analysis on what the DA had done in the Western Cape.

“I’m tired being told by my family living in the poor areas in Cape Town how amazingly the DA is doing,” said McKaiser.

Mbeki: ANC puts a plaster over poverty.

Helen Zille debates why SA is at a crossroads. Photo: Caro Malherbe

Helen Zille debates why SA is at a crossroads. Photo: Caro Malherbe

POLITICAL analyst and businessman, Moeletsi Mbeki said the ANC has merely “put a plaster over poverty” in the last 20 years.

Mbeki joined Democratic Alliance (DA) Premier, Helen Zille for a discussion with young professionals at the Crowne Plaza in Rosebank on Tuesday. The topic of the discussion was “Is South Africa at a Crossroads?”

Mbeki said that while South Africa is not at a crossroads, the ANC is.

“The ANC is a political party, South Africa is a country”, said the younger brother of former president Thabo Mbeki.

Mbeki said the past few weeks South Africa has seen the launch of new political parties, who have been breakaways from the ANC such as the Economic Freedom Fighters and SA First—which was founded by veterans of uMkhonto we Sizwe.

He said the reason for the breakaway parties was that the ANC has been in power for 20 years and hardly dented poverty. He made a comparison with China’s progress as they managed to get 20 million people out of poverty, within the last 20 years.

Zille addressed the 300-odd crowd by disagreeing with Mbeki’s argument and said: “South Africa is at a crossroads because the ANC’s politics are South Africa’s politics.”

She said if the ANC is at a crossroads then “willy nilly” South Africa is too.

However, she believes that South Africa now has a much better chance of overcoming these crossroads than 20 years ago.

She also touched on corruption when she said: “The ANC is still such a dominant presence in the state, in institutions that are supposed to be independent that are no longer and in business.”

Zille went on to agree with Mbeki and she said the core fault is that there is a “dividing line right through the middle of the ANC” which creates visceral crossroads for South Africa.

Mbeki and Zille both agreed that there is need for a strong competitive party to oppose the ANC. Zille said a party will only perform when they are scared of voters “firing” them. She said the ANC is not threatened because they are playing on race.

She said that it is up to voters to make a difference by voting out politicians who under perform. “South Africans get the government they vote for.”

Witsie hit with a brick during DA march

“The pain is a bit unbearable,” said Dikeledi Selowa, “I can’t chew using my right side.”

The second year fine art student was involved in the Democratic Alliance march on Tuesday. She was taking pictures with the journalists, when a brick struck the right side of her face.

“I fell onto the ground on impact. Next thing I was held up by two DA members, as they carried me away the journalists rushed in front of me and took pictures.”

Selowa did not see who threw the brick, but claims it came from the Cosatu marchers.

She was taken to hospital by a DA counsellor, along with another DA marcher who was also hit by a brick, which fractured her arm.

After the wounds above and below Selowa’s eye were stitched up, the counsellor took her home to Atteridgeville, Pretoria.