In the age of keyboard rage and populist loudhailers, university student Wandile Msomi has been quietly honing his diplomacy skills to show there is another way – through the subtle art of debate.
At the recent International Youth Diplomacy Conference in Ghana, he was awarded a certificate of excellence for his presentation on child marriages in Africa – and is hoping to be one step closer to realising his dream of becoming the youngest secretary-general of the UN.
“It’s an ambitious goal, but that’s my main aim,” said the 21-year-old student who hails from Mariannhill in KwaZulu-Natal and attends Nelson Mandela University in the Eastern Cape.
In his final year of politics at the university, he managed to squeeze in the time to do thorough research and interview people to add to the understanding of the controversial topic at the conference.
“I put in a lot of effort,” said Msomi modestly.
The South African team of 10 who took part in the Pan-African conference included Xabiso Dubasi from NMU; Noluthando Nontobeko Mhlongo from Phoenix Community Health Centre; Neliswa Xongo from the University of the Western Cape; Omhle Ntshingila a post-graduate student from the University of the Witwatersrand; Khayalethu Johnson, a senior facilitator at Activate Change Driver’s Programme; Musa Mdungase from NMMU; Nstika Maweni; Siyabonga Didiza and Daniel Banele Melaphi from the University of Fort Hare.
In February, he flew to New York to represent South Africa at the International Model UN – a programme that teaches and strengthens diplomacy and debating skills through simulated UN meetings.
On that occasion, he chaired a simulated labour committee to discuss violence against men and women in the work place, and to get them to reach a consensus.
For that trip, Msomi and his sister, Wendy Nzama who is a teacher, raised funds to pay for his plane ticket and expenses, but this time his university sponsored the trip – much to his gratitude.
He was included in the delegation at the invitation of Dubase, which is a member of the African Youth Union Commission and a country representative for IFEDGlobal.
Msomi said while in Ghana they were also feted by staff from the South African Consulate, and also set aside time to help clean an orphanage in Ghana on July 18 in honour of 67 minutes for former president Nelson Mandela.
In addition to meeting interesting people at the competition, a highlight was learning about the diverse cultures of delegates from around Africa, and Ghanaian food.
He became something of a jollof connoisseur after eating the west African rice dish every day.
But now that he is back home, the hard work of organising the Youth Diplomacy Conference in South Africa starts.
The team of organisers will split tasks depending on their study loads, and looking forward to drumming up support for a venue and financing to reciprocate Ghana’s hosting of the conference over the past five years.
He also sees it as a great opportunity for young people to be heard on the matters close to their hearts.
“Any issues we have wanted to raise, we have never really had that platform,” he said.