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SADC regional youth debates involve students in public policy issues

Khulasande Tolobisa
Khulasande Tolobisa

Adolescents and young people, aged between 10 and 24 years, make up about a third of the total population in eastern and southern Africa. The growing proportion of youths has great potential to positively impact countries in the region. Yet, youths are often economically and socially excluded, and their voices are seldom heard on policy matters.

The Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) makes use of the space provided by the SADC People’s Summit to engage and educate young people on regional integration and development policy issues. In August 2017, ZIMCODD co-organised the third SADC Regional Tertiary Institution Debates during the SADC People’s Summit held at Constitutional Hill, Johannesburg. The first regional debates were held on the side-lines of the 2015 SADC Summit, in Gaborone, Botswana. The goal for the 2017 debates was to discuss the role of youth in tackling illicit financial flows, climate change, Continental Free Trade Areas and to cultivate a distinctive youth voice on understanding and confronting challenges the continent is facing. The SADC People’s Summit is organised by social movements coming together under the umbrella of the Southern Africa People’s Solidarity Network (SAPSN)
“ZIMCODD acknowledges the value of youth involvement in social and economic policy making processes.

As a social and economic justice movement, we utilise the debates and public speaking gala as part of the broader inclusive movement building efforts,” says Janet Zhou, Programmes Director at ZIMCODD.
“Economic policies that are being enacted by leaders impact the youth, hence the need to incorporate their views,” she said.
The Regional Tertiary Institution Debates have grown to include youths from ten countries who participated in the 2017 SADC People’s Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Southern Africa Trust has collaborated with ZIMCODD to facilitate youth participation in the regional policy debates since their inception in 2015.

Tumiso Chepape, Project Manager at the Trust, giving feedback at the 2017 debates
Tumiso Chepape, Project Manager at the Trust, giving feedback at the 2017 debates

“Our decision to support the debates and ZIMCODD’s work is part of our overarching strategy to support regional solutions to problems in SADC,” says Tumiso Chepape, Project Manager at the Southern Africa Trust.

Chepape was one of the adjudicators at the 2017 debates. Judges looked at content, background research, delivery; whether debaters were convincing and demonstrated that they understood the issue and could finish in the allocated time.
“The debates serve to share information and benefit not only the speakers, but those in the audience,” he said.

Khulasande Tolobisa, a 16-year-old from South Africa, was one of 50 delegates who participated in the 2016 debates. Tolobisa started debating when she was in grade three. She has interests in human rights issues, politics and democracy. She said that the debates have made her aware of the economic realities in different countries.

“During the debates, we spoke about diverse issues such as xenophobia, regional economic development, tax justice and relations between South Africa and the African Union,” she said. “I engaged with competitive speakers from the region and was able to hear what the people from other regions were saying regarding tax justice in their respective countries. l encourage other high school debaters to come together and see how to best address key issues at national-level debates,” she said.

The debates are also contributing to promoting people-people integration, overcoming language and cultural barriers. Team Mozambique won the 2017 edition of the debates and were awarded a shield and a special commendation for their efforts. ZIMCODD has maintained a WhatsApp group where the youths communicate, strategise, and share their progress on issues of natural resource governance.

The debates help prepare young people to play their role in creating economic opportunities while ensuring that policies serve the interests of all the people in the southern Africa region.

The debates currently focus on students in southern Africa but plans are underway to incorporate more students drawn from East Africa as well. ZIMCODD intends to make the debates into a platform where policy makers can listen to the informed opinions of youths and respond to the issues raised.

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