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University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, WDU Prospectus

WDU Prospectus


The Wits Debating Union is here to give you access to all forms of discussion and argument. Whether you want to speak or spectate, we give you the platform and opportunity to do so. Your society gives you access to local, national, and international competition, allowing you to pit your skills against the best in the world.

Apart from broadening your mind and developing your argumentative ability, we make it easy for you to have a great time and meet some fascinating people. Our topics can be lighthearted (and sometimes ridiculous!), making for humourous, entertaining debate; or they can be highly topical, raising controversial issues on campus, and in the national or international arena.

We have all seen that events in our developing democracy are often the cause of great controversy. One of our prime functions is to provide a platform for students to confront issues through reasoned argument, rather than physical confrontation.

In the past two years, the Wits Debating Union has being going through one of its most dynamic periods. The key reason for this has been our introduction to national and international inter-varsity competition. Until 1996, when Stellenbosch University hosted the first ever National Debating Championships, there had been no inter-varsity competition in this country.

It was at this event that Wits students were first introduced to the British Parliamentary style of debate, a highly interactive and entertaining style which is used at the World Universities Debating Championships. Our first taste was enough to instill in us a long-lasting passion for parliamentary debating - an enthusiasm which motivated us to participate in the World Debating Championships in Stellenbosch in 1996, and Athens in 1997.

This is one of the most exciting prospects which the WDU can offer you - the chance to participate in an intellectual and social experience beyond compare; a melting-pot of several hundred students from around the world, with representatives from the world's premier universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale.

It was the spur of the World Championships that led to 1998 being WDU's most successful year to date. Estelle Dehon and Steven Budlender reached the finals of the National Debating Championships while Baby Makhaya and Tiisi Mnisi were devastating in their victory in the English Second Language Competition of the same event. Steven Budlender and David Tugendhaft followed this up by winning the Mayors Cup Debate held annually between the top four South African debating teams.

Finally, at the 19th World Universities Debating Championships held in Manila, the Philippines in December 1999, Estelle Dehon and Steven Budlender reached the semi-finals of the competition, the best result a developing world team has ever achieved. Along the way they defeated prestigious institutions such as Glasgow (the oldest debating union in the world) and Oxford (consisting of the best two individual speakers in the world).

This success carried over into 1999 which has so far been a year of phenomenal growth for WDU. Not only has our membership swelled to 150, but we have consistently been able to run eight or nine debates simultaneously at our weekly events due to the fantastic commitment and participation of our new members. We look forward to a second term packed with exciting events culminating in the IV South African National Debating Championships on Wits Campus in July this year.