The Big Debate South Africa is a South African television debate series with a focus on pertinent contemporary political topics to South Africa, which has been running since 2009. It is conducted in a “town hall debate” style with the presenter, Siki Mgabadeli, interviewing key guests, asking questions, and moderating the subsequent debate. The Big Debate is a national forum that brings together all sectors of society, including government, civil society, the private sector, experts, youth, workers, and affected communities, to discuss the foremost issues affecting South Africa.
The show has aired on eTV and SABC 2 and has a channel on YouTube of previously aired episodes. The FHR has collaborated with the Big Debate for an Amarightza Human Rights Special TV Show which aired on 21st March 2015 after the launch of the SEJA programme as well as a special episode to reflect on the 20 Years of The Constitution which aired in May 2016. The FHR funded seasons 7, 8 and 9 of the series between 2015 and 2018 for its SEJA programme. Some of the episodes that have been funded by FHR include:
State Capture; Access to Justice hwww.youtube.com/watch?v=xkuUiBiy7tY; Radical Economic Transformation www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZOENpa6U2c; Political Parties and Democracy www.youtube.com/watch?v=maDh_RHCJys; Role of Civil Society; Nuclear Deal/Energy www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUNHCO-zf24; Women’s Equality and Rights www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6_KqCXAZ2k; and Rural Livelihoods and Democracy.
With social and economic fault-lines running deeper than ever since the end of apartheid, the poor and the marginalized needed platforms like The Big Debate to make their voices heard. The show encouraged participatory democracy through providing a platform for the public to engage in debate with policy and decision makers to ensure the realization of the political and socio-economic rights as set out in the Constitution. It provided a platform which ensured that civilians had an opportunity to hold government accountable in terms of delivery of services and the protection of the rights of civilians. It encouraged and facilitated active citizenry by keeping civilians informed of topical issues such as racism and inequality; the rights of migrants and refugees; state capture, radical economic transformation, rape culture, food sovereignty; food sovereignty; press freedom and censorship amongst many other topics affecting civilians living in South Africa.
Special guests on the show included leaders in government and civil society such as Deputy Minister, John Jeffery, Judge Zak Yacoob (Former ConCourt Judge), Bheki Cele (Minister of the Police), Professor Barney Pityana, Judge Jody Kollapen (High Court Judge), Qedani Mahlangu (former Gauteng MEC for Health and Social Development), musicians (such as The Muffinz, Caiphus Semenya, Letta Mbulu and Lira). Audience members included traditional leaders, LGBTIQ+ activists, #FeesMust Fall activists and political analysts amongst many others.
The episodes generated just over 12 million views on television, radio, social media and other interactive platforms. The Big Debate was aired live on SABC TV and Radio, as well as on YouTube and Facebook. Live broadcasts provided an opportunity for viewers to engage with the discussions and also comment instantly. Responses on social media were overwhelming, with many people describing The Big Debate as one of the best platforms for unbiased and frank debate. Positive feedback was received from the Presidency, which acknowledged that it monitored The Big Debate closely to gauge public sentiment on key issues. Business Leadership South Africa agreed that the episodes have been useful in exposing corruption and challenging its members to act ethically. NGOs and community groups indicated that the series had been a very powerful tool for educating and informing activists and citizens alike.