"Education is the most powerful weapon to change the word." --Nelson Mandela One of the most enduring legacies of apartheid is that an entire generation of black South Africans was deprived of a decent education by a system designed to entrench racial oppression and subjugation. Fourteen years after South Africa became a democracy, the legacy of the country's racist past has not been completely extinguished. While "whites-only" schools are a thing of the past, the reality is that the majority of black students in South Africa today are poor and the majority of white students are not. As part of several efforts to bridge the racial chasm that lingers in parts of the country, a unique programme called the South African Model United Nations Debate Competition stands out.
In spite of being a founding member of the United Nations, South Africa was increasingly isolated from the Organization during the 1970s and 1980s, as the international campaign against apartheid intensified. Hence, when UN agencies established offices in Pretoria in the mid-1990s, they faced a society that was largely unaware of the broader global community and the United Nations in particular. South Africa's active participation in the United Nations over the past decade has increased the awareness of the general public considerably, including the country's hosting of the 2001 World Conference on Racism in the city of Durban.
To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations in 1995, the Government under Nelson Mandela, together with the newly established UN agencies in Pretoria, inaugurated the South African Model UN Debate Competition. To ensure that participants were from a cross-section of society, it was decided that each team would comprise two students from a previously disadvantaged school and two from a previously advantaged school.
The objective of this criterion was twofold:
* to prevent a situation whereby well-resourced schools, which have the advantage of easier access to information sources, win every debate against lesser-resourced schools in the black townships; and
* to facilitate dialogue between students and teachers, who would otherwise not be engaging with each other, thereby lowering racial barriers and encouraging socialization and, ultimately, nation-building.
Teams from each of the nine provinces in the country competed against each other as they debated issues of global importance. The inaugural event was a great success and the winning...