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.




‘Zuma is still on top despite Nkandla,’ says DA’s Maimane

FRIENDLY ENEMIES:  Mmusi Maimane, Imaan Rappetti and Paul Mashatile pictured after a heated debate. Photo: Bongiwe Tutu

FRIENDLY ENEMIES: Pictured at the Wits Great Debate (from left to right), Mmusi Maimane, Imaan Rappetti and Paul Mashatile. Photo: Bongiwe Tutu

Corruption and race dominated discussions in the penultimate of the Great Debate series at Wits University last night.

The African National Congress (ANC)’s Paul Mashatile and the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) Mmusi Maimane took to the stage in front of a packed Great Hall divided between supporters dressed in blue and those in yellow.

“The DA has some black members, but the black people in the DA aren’t good enough to go to parliament,” argued Gauteng ANC chair Mashatile.

Maimane responded to the lack of black DA MPs (members of parliament) by saying, “we haven’t said we’d reward cadres. We’ve said we’d reward the best, based on skill.”

Editor of The Star newspaper, Makhudu Sefara, who was part of the audience at the debate, noted that the DA “skilfully avoided questions of race and accountability, leaving the ANC to over-capitalise on it”.

The high levels of corruption was also addressed when an audience member criticised the ANC for its lack of transparency, citing Nkandla and budget deficits as affecting the legitimacy of the government.

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

Mashatile, in response, focused on Gauteng specifically by saying: “There is no corruption in Gauteng.” He went on to blame increased migration for the current budget deficit in the province.

The final leg of the debate series will take place tonight at Wits University starting promptly at 8pm. For tickets, click here.



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.