Model UN students
UN staff in Pretoria joined the South African Model UN (SAMUN) 2014 in Cape Town where 36 “born frees” from all nine provinces of the country as well as a team from Namibia came together to take on the roles of UN Member States in three debates over two days.
The generation of South Africans born after the country’s first democratic elections of 1994 are often referred to as the “born frees” as they did not live under apartheid. These students had been selected by UN adjudicators at debates around the country in August.
During the competitions, students engaged in dynamic debates on the controversial issues of “Fracking for natural gas”, “State-sanctioned homophobia” and the “Ebola crisis”, which is currently plaguing several West African countries. Teams of four students (two from a resourced school are matched with two from an under-resourced school) argued their respective UN Member States policies on these issues.
UNDP Resident Coordinator a.i. Opia Kumah joined UNIC Director Helene Hoedl as “adjudicators”, assessing the performances of the teams. Head of the UNEP Office Cecilia Kinuthia-Njenga, who had presented on fracking, and UN Women Representative Auxilia Ponga, were impressed by the learners. “It is remarkable how these learners grappled with the complex issue of fracking and how eloquently and convincingly they presented their countries’ positions”, said Ms. Njenga. UNIC National Information Officer Sudeshan Reddy conducted individual interviews with the students who were in the running for an international Model UN conference in New York in February 2015.
It was encouraging to see the alumni of this 16 year-old programme, organized by the NGO Education Africa with the UN Information Centre Pretoria, taking on the role of tutors to the high school teams. Local media, including radio reporters and television crews, followed the debates and interviewed the UN representatives.
Participants had the rare opportunity to spend the night on South Africa’s iconic Robben Island, where the late president Nelson Mandela was confined for 18 of his 27 years in prison. Students found themselves being treated like the political prisoners during apartheid, even eating the dreadful prison food.
Ms. Hoedl and South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Education, Enver Surty, addressed the closing awards ceremony on Robben Island, where a team of 12 students was selected to participate in the MUN conference at Cornell University in New York. “We are very pleased that these students are learning so much about the UN”, said the Deputy Minister. “The UN has played an important role in eliminating apartheid and supporting us in the transition to a multi-racial democracy."