BY Mafuku Naison T.
INCESSANT smiles reigned on Soofia English Medium School [SEMS] tripartite debaters and their co-supporters when they walked away with first prize to the value of R50 000 during a colorful grandeurs national Lesotho Revenue Authority [LRA] high school debate competition on taxation beating nine districts thus stripping Leribe English Medium School [LEMS] of the defending champions of the 2014 rolling trophy on 29 May 2015 at Lehakoe club in Maseru.
This prestigious win further brought moments of joyous celebration to all SEMS teachers and students from high school to primary following the announcement at assembly on the next day.
Taking you down the memory lane, the crown did not come in a silver platter but was a product of direct and indirect concerted team effort from both teachers and students during the preparation time.
Rehearsals commenced from end of January with a pool of forty-six students who had joined as members of the English Language debate panel led by Mr Mafuku Naison as chosen by the department as coach and administrator of the club working in collaboration with the Head of Department and Chairperson of Butha-Buthe District English panel comprising of twenty secondary and high schools-Mr Rankaki Leboea.
The intensive school training saw many students kneading and falling as it became hot dwindling from forty-six to thirty-four and continued to size down to twenty four. With these twenty-four enthusiastic participants, an internal school district debate qualifier competition was held on 15 April on a session which spanned for more than three hours in a bid to select the best six where thus we had to come up with the three finalists to represent the school on the district competition which was held on 24 April.
Of these three debaters, Boitumelo Mofolo [Form D] was first speaker, Lerato Molati [Form C] as second speaker and Nthoana Sehloho [Form E] as third speaker. Backing them to enhance continuous practice was Nazia Zakhura [Form C] as first speaker, Maletsema Mokone [Form E] as second speaker and Maselloane Ramotoho [Form E] as third speaker.
The former trio was crowned Butha-Buthe district champions during a competition held at Butha-Buthe Community School hall where fourteen schools participated with Mofolo as best speaker followed by Molati respectively.
Competition at national level on a motion which states; “High tax rates provoke tax evasion and smuggling of goods in Lesotho” was stiff but each of our debaters waged counter attack that brought their opponents Cenez High School of Berea down. Their command of language, knowledge of content and confidence they exhibited was top best unseen by the judges. Their debate skills were educational to audience and convincing to judges.
Moment of result announcement brought a protracted feeling of attention including-Very highly Important People [VHIP], the Honourable Minister of Education and Training, Dr Mahali Phamotse, the Chief Education Officer, Mr Ratsiu Majara, Commissioner General Lesotho- [LRA], Mr Thabo Letjama, several tax officials, students and the audience at large.
SEMS’s Molati Lerato [13 years old] was recognized as “Best student with taxation content” and awarded a gold trophy engraved LRA. Mofolo and Sehloho got bronze medals on position ten and seven respectively. Molati was awarded again as “Best Overall Speaker” with 82.3 points beating all the twenty-nine contestants. These three debaters will enjoy a Career Guidance Session to be held in Maseru joining other twenty-seven contestants’ end of this month. Molati received R10 000 for tuition, book fee and examination fee for the 2016 academic year. She will be joined by Cenez High School girl with 79.7 points on second position and LEMS girl contestant who got position three with 79.3 points. The trio will go for another Career Guidance session at the University of Pretoria and site seeing to different places in South Africa.
The district hierarchy results were Butha-Buthe on first position represented by SEMS with 781 points, Leribe on position two represented by LEMS with 761 points, Berea on position three represented by Cenez High School with 741 points, Mokhotlong on position four represented by Mokhotlong High School with 729 points, Mafeteng  with 726 points, Maseru  with 714 points, Thaba-Tseka  with 666 points, Qacha’s Nek  with 665 points, Quthing  with 661 points and Mohale’s Hoek  with 586 points. SEMS received a rolling trophy with prize money of R50 000, LEMS received R30 000 and Cenez received R20 000. The last seven districts were given each R5 000.
The Minister of Education and Training, Honourable Dr Mahali Phamotse hailed the participants for their brevity in showing debate skills in a spirited competitive way. However, she raised concern on the dwindling number of male students in such forums. On this competition, only five of the participants were boys and twenty-five were girls.
Commissioner of LRA, Mr Thabo Letjama showed satisfaction on the level of understanding on tax issues the students demonstrated over the past six years when the competition rolled on in 2010. “This knowledge of taxation content our students show will go a long way in making full tax compliance by this future generation. Next year, there is a paradigm shift by LRA from offering debate competitions in high schools to spelling Bee competition for primary students with effect from 2016,” he remarked.
Representing the Principals, Mr Vijaykumaar Bhaskaran of SEMS applauded LRA in collaboration with Ministry of Education and Training for engaging the learners in robust debate forums on life related issues like taxation. He alluded that students are bound to taking their studies seriously and develop their mindset into enthusiastic researchers who will be informative, confident and technologically oriented.