SA student flies to New York to honour Mandela in 'model UN' meeting despite cash crunch

2019-02-02 18:27
Wandile Msomi takes a quick sight seeing trip in New York. (Supplied)

Wandile Msomi takes a quick sight seeing trip in New York. (Supplied)

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Instead of frittering his time on Twitter fights, Port Elizabeth politics student Wandile Msomi has honed his skills in the fine art of diplomacy and international negotiation so well that he has been invited to New York to participate in the International Model UN (WIMUN) this week.

After winning his section in the South African leg, as the "head" of the UK delegation in a simulated UN Security Council meeting in Pretoria, Msomi was selected to make the long journey to the Big Apple.

"I thought Johannesburg was the busiest city. ... this place is just too busy, 24-hours a day," he said after his first day there. 

With his scarf in the colours of the South African flag and a warm jacket for the winter freeze, the 20-year-old - originally from Mariannhill in KwaZulu-Natal - is looking forward to wowing his fellow delegates with his powers of persuasion, mediation and consensus seeking.

Wandile Msomi

Pilgrimage to Mandela Corner in New York. (Supplied)

WIMUN participants are expected to be well versed and fluent in the topic and country that is assigned to them.

At the simulated Security Council meeting in Pretoria, the topic was "Peace in West Africa".

The gatherings are designed to be an accurate simulation of the UN, teaching students research, public speaking, debating, writing skills and cultural empathy. They must also read up on and familiarise themselves with the country assigned for each meeting.

Representatives from other universities in South Africa, such as the University of Cape Town, will also be in attendance.

'To my surprise, I was accepted in two days'

In the first competition that the second-year Nelson Mandela University political science student won, he debated as a representative of Fiji, and was sent to the nationals in Pretoria.

"After the nationals, a number of Department of International Relations and Cooperation employees and junior diplomats approached me and said I should definitely go to WIMUN," he told News24 via WhatsApp, as he battled insomnia from time-zone changes.

"And since it was the centenary year of former president Nelson Mandela, I thought I should put my name forward to participate in the biggest Model UN in the world in honour of him, and to get maximum exposure to the world of diplomacy.

"To my surprise, I was accepted in two days, which is extremely rare," said Msomi.

He said he was drawn to the programme to learn more about the influential global body.

At the New York WIMUN gathering, the labour committee he will be chairing will discuss violence against men and women in the world of work.  

Msomi is expecting around 90 delegates from all over the world on his committee, and it will be his job to get them to reach consensus.

Wandile Msomi

With a statue of Nelson Mandela in New York. (Supplied)

'I'm rooting for him'

He was elected more than two weeks ago and had early endorsements from his Lebanese, Turkish and Ghanaian delegates, as well as secret ballot endorsements.

The opening plenary started on January 30, and the sitting lasts between January 31 and February 2. But he almost did not make it.

His sister Wendy Nzama pulled out all the stops to take out loans and to raise funds, as she was determined that her brother would fulfill his dream of participating. 

"I'm rooting for him," the school teacher said, proudly showing off pictures he had sent of a trip to the Brooklyn Bridge and to the hallowed halls of the UN. Even pictures of the one pizza slice and New York "take out" he had budgeted for.

Msomi has to watch his dollars while there because, sadly, they had no luck with sponsorship from local government departments they had approached for help, although some radio stations helped raise some money for him. 

They are still hoping that philanthropists will contribute to his backabuddy campaign to cover his modest budget.

But the trip is not all about cheap pizza and sight seeing, as he goes through his notes for the debates.

"But it's not that difficult, because I enjoy it," he says.

Read more on:    nelson mandela university  |  port elizabeth  |  new york  |  education
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