Conversations for tomorrow
WE OFTEN take for granted that teenagers are too involved in their "social" lives to take notice of what is happening around them.
Last weekend I was happy to discover otherwise when vibrant pupils from schools across Gauteng challenged my views and even educated me on e-tolling.
The top 15 young public speakers in Gauteng gathered at the Anglo American headquarters in Johannesburg on Saturday for the Gauteng leg of the 19th edition of the Young Communicators Awards (YCA), that are an initiative by Anglo American and Sowetan.
Topics such as the power of imagination, equal money, equal education, marching to a different drum beat, a new generation of women and "life begins at the age of 40" were presented.
But I was particularly drawn to a debate in which contestants were split into two groups to weigh the pros and cons of Gauteng's hottest issue - the controversial e-tolling system.
YCA coordinator Abdullah Verachia led the debate.
Bonginkosi Peter, 17, of Ponelopele Oracle Secondary School, said: "I agree with (trade union federation) Cosatu. How does the government expect us to survive when they keep milking us?"
Some pupils backed e-tolling, while most opposed it. Arguing against the system, one speaker said the system was an excuse for the government to overrule the power of citizens.
"People will be left more vulnerable. It is a threat to demo-cracy and could cause a civil war."
Another contestant supported the statement, saying: "It is unconstitutional and unfair as the public sector is there to serve people."
A point of view that was raised is that people should not be blamed and made to pay for the government's mistakes.
One young debater mentioned that the system should be delayed to correct the communication error.
"People should not purchase the e-tags until proper procedure has taken place."
The opposing camp emphasised that South Africa should not mimic other countries. "Stop Westernising SA, modernise it."
An important point of discussion was that the e-toll system is simply a waste of money.
"How sure are we that the money the public is paying for the e-tolls will be managed properly?
"Corrupt officials will keep on benefiting."
The team in favour of the system said a major benefit was the "Big Brother" factor.
"The cameras will help decrease car theft," said one pupil.
A second complained about the challenges people place on the government. "South Africans are best at complaining. Roads have been improved, just as they asked, but they continue to scuffle over paying for them."
The same contestant insisted that the money to settle the debt behind e-tolls had to come from somewhere.
Adding to that, a debater said: "Strikes are a waste of money and time."
Build more e-tolls, the government was told, then motorists can pay less. "There should be a flat fee, making paying fair toeveryone."
A teenager in support of the affordability factor for motorists said: "Something for consumers to ponder is 'reason over emotion'. South Africans are short-sighted."
Acknowledging that the public was not informed properly, the "pro" group still maintained that the e-tolls were not a disadvantage and at this stage, the government should work on showing people the advantages.
"Mistakes have been made, but it can get better. E-tolling is only a modern and electronic version of regular tolls."
It was unanimously accepted that the implementation of the system is wrong and is a cover-up for everything unethical the government has done.
After a brilliant and eye-opening performance by these future leaders, Martin Hattingh, 17, of Hoërskool Kempton Park, Bonginkosi Peter, of Ponelopele Oracle Secondary School, and Millicent Katsane, 17, of Riverside High School, were named Gauteng's top public speakers. Katsane will represent the province at the finals in July.
These Grade 11 and 12 pupils gave me a glimpse of the future, and hope for a brighter, more democratic South Africa.