Debating will grow your brain cells - Wits Africa champ

2015-12-21 17:31
Wits University was brought a standstill this week after the announcement of an increase in tuition fees for the 2016 study year. Students at the university were protesting against the fee hikes and boycotted classes. Picture: ELIZABETH SEJAKE

Wits University was brought a standstill this week after the announcement of an increase in tuition fees for the 2016 study year. Students at the university were protesting against the fee hikes and boycotted classes. Picture: ELIZABETH SEJAKE

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Johannesburg - One of the Wits University students who won the Pan-African Universities Debating Championship has said the experience could change people's perspectives.

"It was a humbling experience and it was quite an electric moment," Mighti Jamie, who will soon begin his fourth year in law, said about the win with his partner and fellow law student, Nonhlanhla Masanabo.

The pair, one of three teams representing the Wits Debating Union, beat three other teams from Nigeria, Ghana and Zimbabwe in the final debate, held at the University of Ghana in Accra earlier this month.

Jamie and Masanabo also won the top two individual speaker awards; Jamie was ranked the best debater in Africa for 2015, while Masanabo was ranked second overall. 

They successfully argued in the final that the African Union (AU) should attempt to broker a deal with the International Criminal Court (ICC). This would require the ICC to indict former US president George W Bush, in exchange for the AU enforcing the ICC’s existing indictment of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir. 

The South African government failed to arrest Al-Bashir during his visit to the country in June, despite the ICC having issued warrants for his arrest to stand trial on charges of crimes against humanity and genocide. The government ignored a high court order granted during his visit to enforce the warrant, and he was allowed to leave the country.

Jamie felt Al-Bashir should have his day in court. 

Read widely

"There was a discussion around America wanting others to comply with things, when they don't comply with the same thing. It is about their legitimacy as a moral actor, and how their continued non-participation in the ICC erodes that," he said. 

Jamie said he and Masanabo had to work hard to win the final because they had to differentiate their arguments from the other team that was also for the motion. The other two teams had to argue against it. 

The debates required much preparation. Participants were given the topic 15 minutes before the start. The topics were wide-ranging and could be about Syria and the migrant crisis in Europe, Al-Bashir, or whether disabled people should be regarded as vulnerable. 

"My basic preparation is to read as widely as I can. I read the Foreign Affairs magazine, The Economist magazine, the New York Times, Al-Jazeera, the Daily Maverick and the Mail & Guardian. I also read fundamental texts, like course works for other first-year subjects," Jamie said.

Debating had made him a better law student, said Jamie, and had taught him how to argue. Law students learnt about cases and legislation, but struggled with presenting arguments.

Politicians should debate issues

He said it was initially difficult to argue for things one disagreed with, and a debater would have had to work hard at doing this this. This could include being pro-Palestinian and arguing for Israel’s views, or being black and debating against affirmative action.

"You have to understand the other view and have tolerance for that viewpoint, and you begin to understand why people hold firmly to their belief, and you either have to persuade them to change or to find a compromise," said Jamie.

He said politicians needed to debate important issues, especially in South Africa. "Everybody has a hard line, and only once you understand their point, can you come together to produce bipartisan agreements. 

"The DA doesn't see what the ANC sees, and the ANC doesn't see what the DA sees. Very few people give time to listen to each other's views." 

Jamie urged students to get involved with debating. "It is very refreshing and will grow your brain cells," he said. "It is like swimming. At first you are scared to jump into the water. But once you do, it changes your life in ways you can't imagine." 

Read more on:    university of witwatersrand  |  johannesburg

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