South African teen wins My Magna Carta competition

March 23rd, 2016
Mfundo Radebe won the overall senior category of the My Magna Carta competition, an international creative essay writing competition. Photo credit – Media Link

Mfundo Radebe won the overall senior category of the My Magna Carta competition, an international creative essay writing competition. Photo credit – Media Link

By Nomfundo Manyathi-Jele

Mfundo Radebe from Umlazi in KwaZulu-Natal has won the overall senior category of the My Magna Carta, an international creative essay writing competition.

The competition was open for 11 to 18 year olds and its main aim was to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta. Young people from across the world were invited to create their own Magna Carta for the 21st century.

According to the English-Speaking Union (ESU), which organised the My Magna Carta competition, entrants were tasked to present a new document that safeguards and promotes the rights, privileges and liberties of either their own country or the world, using the Magna Carta as their source document. As in the original document, entrants needed to give particular thought to the powers of presidents, prime ministers and monarchs that need to be limited. Entrants were encouraged to draw lessons from recent national and international events.

Entrants submitted their Magna Carta as a written piece. The top two entries from national finals were submitted to the ESU Central panel for judging. Continent winners were invited to a Magna Carta Celebration Gala in October 2015 at the ESU headquarters in London to present their entry to a live audience. The junior winner from the African continent was Kayseka Geerjanan from Mauritius. The final winner in the junior category was Jane Josefowicz from the United States.

Mr Radebe (18) is also a recipient of a full scholarship to Harvard where he will start studying in August.

De Rebus news editor, Nomfundo Manyathi-Jele had the opportunity to interview Mr Radebe about his achievement.

Nomfundo Manyathi-Jele (NMJ): What inspired you to enter the competition?

Mfundo Radebe (MR): I have always been passionate about South African democracy and politics. Therefore, when I found the My Magna Carta competition online I was so stoked and I just simply had to enter it. Even though there was an open invitation for the creation of modern rights, there was a large emphasis on the limitation of modern governments. It was my field of interest as I have done a lot of writing on South African politics, including, being very critical of the government. I do believe that they have forgotten the promises that they made to the South African people after the end of Apartheid. The My Magna Carta competition was a way for me to voice that. I had hoped that my voice would be discovered on an international stage so that the world knows that the majority of South Africans are hungry for change at this point and that yes, there is hope in Africa.

NMJ: How did you find out about the competition?

MR: I actually discovered My Magna Carta while at the school’s computer room doing some research for a debate. I do not have the most reliable internet connection at home, so I have to rely on doing all my research at school. I logged in and ‘Googled’ modern constitutional influences. I then remembered that last year was the anniversary of the Magna Carta, so I ‘Googled’ Magna Carta and the competition popped up. At this point in time I had only two and a half hours to write this essay because I had to go home soon so I quickly wrote something and submitted it. Then about two months later, when I was going home one day, I turned on my phone to find a voicemail from the educational programme officer at the ESU, William Stileman, telling me I was the senior winner from Africa. I simply could not believe it!

NMJ: What was your winning essay about?

MR: My essay was on limiting the powers of government.

NMJ: You must be really proud of yourself, how do you feel about winning?

MR: Winning the competition has actually confirmed my convictions of going into politics and returning the ideals of the law into the system. I still feel quite excited when I look back at the competition because it really showed that even though there were many people who entered from around the world, we all shared the same beliefs and concerns regarding the following of the law in governance.

NMJ: What prize did you win, was it the Harvard scholarship?

MR: The prize was very sentimental – they printed my Magna Carta onto traditional sheepskin parchment. The Harvard scholarship was a side thing, which I applied for by myself. I guess winning My Magna Carta did help though because it meant I could apply to Harvard as an international writing and speaking champion.

NMJ: How do you feel about going to Harvard? Are you excited?

MR: I am very excited about Harvard, but I am also a bit scared. I mean sure I have gotten in and that is great and all but I know that there is a long journey ahead of me and the fact that I leave my family and friends behind is quite daunting.

NMJ: What are you currently doing while you wait to leave in August?

MR: I am currently working at my ex-school Crawford College, La Lucia in Durban as a debating coach and administration assistant. I am also doing a bit of writing both in my personal capacity and as a columnist.

NMJ: What will you study there?

MR: I will study political science and economics. I decided against political science and African studies as I feel the former is a stronger combination.

NMJ: How long is the course?

MR: It is a four year degree course with the ability to write an honours thesis in the four years.

NMJ: I see that you are very interested in the law and politics. What sparked your interest in law?

MR: Law is a very interesting field. I feel that it is so dynamic because it has evolved over time with the evolution of mankind. I like the law because I feel that it allows us to truly interact with each other within the acceptable moral grounds we have all agreed are the norm. But it is the fact that those norms are constantly challenged that makes law so exciting.

Nomfundo Manyathi-Jele NDip Journ (DUT) BTech Journ (TUT) is the news editor at De Rebus.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2016 (April) DR 9.