Co-founder and director, Debate Afrika
When Zola Valashiya was introduced to debating at high school, he was totally hooked. “I thoroughly enjoyed the intellectual challenge, memorising facts about the world, and out-thinking my opponent at an intellectual level,” he says.
Valashiya co-founded Debate Afrika in 2012, with his friend, and while training high schoolers in Bloemfontein to debate, they noticed that it was often learners from schools in affluent areas that were selected to represent the Free State at the national debate competition, while learners from disadvantaged schools were continually sidelined. “It was not because they weren’t smart, but they needed coaching and practice, especially because debating is primarily in English — a language that is not their own.” Valashiya and his team began training these schools in logic, argumentation, case construction and critical thinking, setting up debating league structures to enable learners to practise as frequently as possible.
This resulted in many being successfully drafted into the national team and performing better at debating competitions.
If a school doesn’t have an existing debate club, Debate Afrika helps establish one, training teachers and learners to run it autonomously. Other specific programmes include the Afrika Debate Academy (a Saturday debating school) and SheSpeaks! a debate and public speaking workshop specifically designed for girls, addressing challenges they face.
Valashiya is also the schools projects and campaigns manager for Corruption Watch, a role that further allows him to pursue his passion for working with the youth, engaging with them about issues like leadership ethics, accountability, integrity and transparency.
It has been quite the journey for the primary school learner who overcame a speech impediment to win his first speech competition through sheer hard work and practice. Valashiya holds an LLB degree from the University of the Free State and a master’s in public administration from Central European University. He is also a Mandela Rhodes scholar (2015) and a Young African Leadership Initiative Mandela Washington Fellowship (2017).
“I am passionate about working with young people and helping to shape young minds. There’s nothing more beautiful than seeing a young mind flourish. Civic leadership is critical in our country right now and we need leaders that can make South Africa the best version of itself. That means we must start early to build the sort of leaders we want to see.”
— Fatima Asmal