On Thursday June 18, Cape Town’s leg of the VIP Youth Festival continued at El Greeyo Coffee Shop in Salt River, with the launch of debate platform “Policy Hack”. The platform is a way of tackling policies and dense subject matter by using the British Parliament debate format. The debate did not take the usual form of the facilitator posing a question, with the panelists answering and the audience chipping in with their points and questions. The audience was expected to fully engage with the topic and was divided into two groups, with one group for and the other against. The groups had 20 minutes to prepare and had to elect two speakers, one who would set the case and the other to rebut the opposing speaker.
The topic of the debate related to the National Youth Policy (NYP) and patriotism. As found in the policy, the creators of the NYP would like to see a more patriotic South African youth. But given the recent xenophobic attacks rocking the country, where would we begin developing this patriotism? To aid the discussion, there was a panel which consisted of Zizipho Pae, Deputy President of the SRC at the University of Cape Town; Vuyani Sokhaba, President of the SRC at the University of the Western Cape; Senzo Hlophe from Activate! and Stephen Curry from the National Youth Development Agency.
The debate was lively and interesting, with thought-provoking propositions put forward. The proposing team stated that we should aspire for constitutional patriotism, where the government is democratically accountable to its people and where all citizens, including young people, are involved in lawmaking. This would also mean that the government and its citizens are able to come together to talk about pertinent issues.
The opposing team suggested that before we develop a patriotic South Africa, the word patriotism itself needs to be redefined. We need to focus on developing a patriotic Africa before a patriotic South Africa can be realised. They argued that we are first African before we are South African. The gloves were off! The debate headed into a full-on series of rebuttals. The proposing team argued that “African patriotism” is a commendable idea but it still doesn’t address xenophobia. They argued that we had some tough questions to ask. For example, who does government have a moral and legal responsibility to dispense services to? It’s citizens or everyone who lives in the country (regardless of their citizenship)?
The opposition did not take this lying down. They highlighted that constitutional patriotism excludes foreign nationals and, as a result, would reinforce xenophobic attitudes. They argued that it’s not enough to just focus on South Africans because there are foreign nationals already living in the country and a patriotism that excludes them might lead to nationalism.
In the end, both teams agreed that before we can develop a patriotic South Africa, we need three things: to narrow down the definition of “patriotism”, educate ourselves so we can have more nuanced discussions and develop our consciousness. This would aid patriotism because education not only entails academics but also means that people are aware of their society and the ways they can contribute to making it better. Consciousness will create patriotism in deconstructing the meaning of the word “patriotism” and redefining it to make it more inclusive. It was an amazing day filled with a captivating exchange of ideas and compelling dialogue from both the panelists and the audience.
Images by Shafeeqah Sollons and Bulumko Gana.