My name is Valentine Makoni. I Debate.
For years, I have had a fraught relationship with this statement. Beset as it was with uncertainty, doubt and guilt. A sense, that this identity was incomplete, insufficient, incompetent. Maybe, I can wear it as a badge of honour; find an inspirational angle; or grow from the platform of debate into an enviable other form of identity. Maybe.
Until then, as simple as it is: My name is Valentine Makoni. I Debate.
In 2005, I was the only Form Two student allowed in the Form Four class at my school. Admittedly, this privilege could only be exercised on Friday afternoons between 1 and 4 pm. No other time. After all, I was the only junior member of the middle debate society at the college.
To this day, why Mrs Musoni, my English teacher, asked me to join the society is a mystery. Could it have been my participation in class? My written assignments? A random coincidence? It is as arbitrary as it is pivotal. She chose me to be the only junior member of the St Ignatius College Middle Debate Society.
For a year and a half, my role was observational. Seniority at boys’ schools is a principle strictly adhered to and debate was no exception. Paidamoyo Magondo, Garikai Matambo, Simbarashe and others, served as mentors by proxy. I watched, in silent learning, of the skills they possessed. I admired their grace and style and dreamed of becoming part of the student leadership too. A junior associate prefect. Read speeches at assembly. Get extra food in the dining hall. Wear long trousers.
If the privilege of entering the Form four class was my primary motivation for joining debate, the trips to St Dominic’s High School down the road were a close second. “Outings” as they were known, to “our sister school” was the stuff of envy. My seat, in the Mazda T-35 truck’s converted backseat was guaranteed.
Debate outings were courteous. Tea and snacks, welcome parties by gracious hosts, English decorum in salutations. I soaked it all with nerdy wonder.
By the third term of my third form, I was a bonafide member of the team. I wouldn’t just be a time keeper, a holder of jackets or a lackey to arrange chairs. I was a speaker, a participant, a combatant.
My innate laziness for preparation, coupled with my overwhelming lack of structure eliminated the suitability to first or second speaker. I became a third speaker by default; and how I revelled in the role.
To deconstruct arguments came naturally to me. The role of rebuttal, principally taken by the third speaker, was one I embraced with gladiatorial gusto. I excelled, often being the best speaker. The feminine attention that came with such exploits, deeply cherished.
This is Sparta
The movie 300 came out in March 2007. My adolescent mind lapped up their heroic efforts as a representation of our own struggles. I was Leonidas, leading a rag tag team of eager combatants against the marauding forces of vastly superior opponents.
We were Sparta.
Back then, St Ignatius College focused its energies on academics. It was, after all, consistently in the Top 5 schools for O’level and A’Level results. This, however, came at the expense of woefully under-resourced co-curricular activities. We had no coach, and only intermittent attention from the club patron. There was no internet access at the school, and we were occasionally granted “passes” to do research for an hour at a dial up internet café in town. We had minimal interaction with “Elite schools”, engaged as were in the Nugget competition which involved fixtures with rural schools. Our funding for trips was consistently under pressure from the decaying macro-economic environment.
Yet, we were undeterred. 2007 was a year to be bold. We won the district competition, qualified through the provincial rounds and proceeded to the National Finals held at Prince Edward College. A valiant effort was insufficient however, for Prince Edward won. A commendable feat. After all, the 300 soldiers all perished under Persian artillery.