The discussion about politics and governance is a little at odds with the present company. Huddled around the Sunday Standard conference table are three chubby cheeks, barely out of their teens. But Ruth Mulenga (18) Masego Phoi (19) and Kevin Segadimo (24) notice no incongruity.
Years of interrogating thorny national issues, dining with Nelson Mandela and breaking debating records have presumably rendered such talk unremarkable.
Our conversation turns from heavy politics to trivia and the University of Botswana trio starts trading stories about their experiences dinning with Nelson Mandela, Tito Mboweni and Justice Campbell.
It would be easy to dismiss the conversation as another name dropping voyage by a clutch of teenagers who have had their fifteen minutes of fame in the shadow of world luminaries, but Ruth, Masego and Kevin are not your usual kids whose staple conversation is hip hop and parties. They are child prodigies who have broken more international debating records than they can count on each hand and have chalked their names on the world map.
Child prodigies are the circus animals of our age, a source of fascination to those who think they might have been one had circumstances been different, and of terror to parents who think they should be raising one but aren’t doing it right. The rest of us take a perverse pleasure in secretly hoping it will all go wrong one day.
This trio, however, is destined for big things and is currently on a mission to “try and create more rounded people who can articulate national and international issues.” They are the big brains behind the 2010 secondary schools debating league which is being sponsored by The Sunday Standard, Native Impressions and Gabz FM. This is expected to be a no-holds barred contest with hard hitting motions. The motion billed for the first debating contest on Friday 12Th March reads: “This House would remove all pictures of the president in public buildings.”
The three prodigies are old hands in the trade, and their resumes are bewitching: Ruth, who is a first year Bachelor of Laws (LLB) student at the university of Botswana, blazed her way through with 48 points, 6 A stars and 2 As. She was head girl at Al Nur Secondary School, best speaker at the 2008/09 Botswana High School Debate, Captain of the 2008/2. She was ranked 8th in the 2008 African Schools Debating Championships and rose to 4th position in 2009. This is a prestigious continental contest which attracts contestants from most Anglo-phone African countries. Last year she set a new record, becoming the first high school student to clinch first place in the high school debating competitions in New Zealand.
She teamed up with Masego for the African School Debating Championships last year where they took second place.
Masego Phoi (19), an alumina of St Patrick School in South Africa where she was awarded full colours for service and debating. She romped to the University of Botswana Psychology class with 43 points. Last year she came second in the African Schools Debating Championships (ASDC) and is currently ranked 12 in the continental championships.
Kevin Segadimo, a fourth year LLB student, is the convener of the 2010 secondary schools debating competition and has consistently ranked best speaker in the universities for the past five years. He was the first African candidate to reach the quarter finals in Thailand, Bangkok international contest. He slugged it out in the final 16 where he had to face off with reputable institutions like Cambridge and Oxford universities. He won the South African Universities championships in 2008 and is currently ranked 4th in South Africa and the world. He was also a finalist at the recent Pan African Universities championships where he had teamed up with Ruth Mulenga. The duo lost to Rhodes University in a controversial decision. They were the people’s champs.
Kevin, Masego and Ruth are currently in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where they are representing Botswana in an international competition.