The gift of the gab

Roshilla Pillay took in the finals of the Telkom World Schools Debating Championships 2000

Sitting in the ballroom of Sandton Convention Centre, it is difficult not to feel inadequate; there are learners from all over the world representing their countries. I overhear Sarah, a member of the English team, tell someone, “We bombed out in the quarter finals.” So did South Africa, Greece, Pakistan, New Zealand and Singapore. South Africa lost to Australia after proposing that parents should have the final say in the medical treatment of their children.
It has been a tough competition.

The Minister of Education, Kader Asmal, delivered a speech, lamenting his absence from debate for 45 years, despite the fact that he is a parliamentarian. “The result is predetermined because the government of which I am a member, and the party of which I am a member, have a majority of more than 200 and so there is no contest!”

Today’s debate proposed by Australia is whether present generations should pay compensation for past injustices. Australia illustrated their case with various examples, including that of the “comfort women”—young women from the countries that Japan conquered, who were shipped to Japanese soldiers and used as concubines. Australia insisted that the Japanese government should compensate these victims.

Scotland argued that it would be too difficult to find the women, and that an apology from the present Japanese government would suffice. The gist of Australia’s argument was that compensating people for past injustices is morally correct and brings closure to suffering. “If you accept past good, you must accept past wrongs,” emphasised Patrick Meagher (18), a member of the team. Scotland, however, saw a genuine apology as the only way forward, his argument being that payment by a present government fails to implicate the regime responsible for wrongdoings.

Finally, after each team had delivered their arguments, the audience waited to find out the winners. One of the judges Trevor Sather, from England, made his way up to the podium, opened the envelope and proceeded to discuss the different arguments.

“We heard outstanding debate from both sides. It had all the devices one looks for in a good debate, superb style, good use of examples, quick thinking— and it had elevator music,” he quipped, alluding to an incident that had taken place earlier, when lobby music was accidentally played over the loudspeakers—while one of the team members made his speech! The judge then announced that Australia was the eventual winner.

Asmal was positive about the outcome, “I think there could have been more research. However, it was stimulating since they had to prepare at the last minute.” The young team from Scotland were quite happy with the results. “We’re very satisfied; we did not expect to get this far,” says Alex Just (15). Meanwhile, the Australian team were ecstatic. “It’s great! The debate was very close. South Africa was a great place to hold the tournament,” said Daniel Piccinin (18), from the winning team.

—The Teacher/Mail & Guardian, March, 2001.

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