Ask any frustrated mother: the youth love to question everything. We still have the vigour and arrogance not to accept reactions or circumstances at face value. We love to challenge outcomes and roadmap responsibility for these conclusions.
It is no different for the youth leaders of South Africa. When my team from the South Africa-Washington International Program (SAWIP) met with the Office of the SA Consulate General in New York City for a meeting with delegates of South Africa’s Permanent Mission to the UN, we heard that our country “bowed to no one”. We heard of implied International power- of a symbolic significance that gave South Afri
ca a certain respectability and humanitarian influence among nations at the negotiation table.
All well and good for our country’s ego, but the UN’s supposed disregard of the African Union and South Africa’s efforts in Libya in 2011 was burning at the back of several of our students’ minds. It was with this ambiguity of opinions that we met with three delegates of South Africa’s Permanent Mission to the UN last month, and the result was a meaningful dialogue in its rarest form.
Our panel consisted of Dr. Jongi Klaas, First Secretary and Representative on Terrorism issues for the Security Council; Mr. Tshimangadzo Jeremiah Murongwana, First Secretary and a member of the Third Committee specialising in children and armed conflicts, and Dr. Dire David Tladi, Legal Adviser to the Mission and member of the Sixth Committee.
For a group of ambitious, young South Africans hungry for a real discussion with diplomats, this panel represented some of South Africa’s best knowledge resources and leaders the country had to offer us. To the credit of the panel, they warned us they would answer all our questions to the extent of what is in their power. To the credit of my team, this did not stop anyone from asking some pressing questions: such as the panel’s opinion on reports of neo-colonialism within bodies like the UN. Throughout the conversation the panel allowed us liberties in our robust and sometimes critical conversation, without patronizing us based on our youth.
Dr. Tladi opened the session with a thorough description of the structure of the UN. The veto power structure of the Security Council naturally led to questions regarding Security Council reform and the division of world powers in response to this issue. The validity of an African claim for a permanent seat was debated, focussing on the disproportionate and non-permanent representation of a continent that houses an alleged 70 percent of all conflicts put before the Security Council. Dr. Tladi also spoke on the differentiation between the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, followed by a discussion on the seemingly selective prosecution of Africans in the ICC.
Issues regarding international conflicts were addressed to Dr. Klaas, who spoke very eloquently on the unrest in the Maghreb region, as well as the application of Palestine to become an UN member state. He also addressed a student’s inquiry as to whether or not he observes South Africa’s influence growing in the international community, but dwindling in Africa. The status of LGBT rights in Africa was discussed by Mr. Murongwana, who spoke of the patterns of violence and policy reform.
The session concluded with a frank discussion on the ambiguity of South Africa’s undersigning of Resolution 1973 for Libya, only for it to criticise the UN and western powers for interfering in a regional conflict. Did these actions undermine the AU? Does South Africa have credibility in its critcisms of western and UN-based inteference? These were some of the tough questions we tackled on that sweltering summer’s afternoon in New York City.
This panel discussion was about more than just literal questions and answers. It was about leaders investing time in the next generation to inform our global perspectives. It was a reaffirming acknowledgement of our need for a platform where young people can engage meaningfully with institutions like the UN. To understand the structural delicacies that result in the conclusions that citizens must live with everyday.
SAWIP would like to thank the Office of the SA Consulate General, and UN members Dr. Tladi, Dr. Klaas and Mr. Murongwana for setting such a promising precedent for youth engagement and knowledge empowerment.
Edyth Parker (SAWIP Class of 2012) is currently a Biotechnology major at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. She wishes to combine her love of community, oratory and science and enter the academic world as a lecturer in her discipline, as she regards education as a tool for transformation and hope.
The South Africa-Washington International Program (SAWIP) is a six-month leadership, service and professional development program that recruits 15 high-potential South African students from three top South African universities each year in pursuit of its mission to inspire, develop and support a diverse new generation of emerging South African leaders from multiple disciplines.