Daily Maverick (Johannesburg)

South Africa: Want a Zuma-Zille Face-Off? Lincoln-Douglas Debates Could Be the Template

analysis

When two very ambitious politicians found a way to debate and frame the issues beginning to rip apart a nation, they willed into being a public tradition that has become a standard element of democratic practice in much of the world.

Could their innovation help South Africa in its own search for a way forward (but without the civil war)? J. BROOKS SPECTOR looks back into history to look forward to a future possibility.

In 1858, throughout much of the wild Kansas Territory and eventually even into neighbouring Missouri, pro- and anti-slavery settlers were fighting a small-scale civil war over whether or not Kansas would be admitted to the Union as a state that allowed slavery within its borders.

Simultaneously, just a few hundred miles away in nearby Illinois, two men were carrying out a battle for the right to be one of Illinois' two US Senate seats.

Incumbent Senator Stephen A Douglas, often nicknamed "The Little Giant" by virtue of his political heft and his diminutive height, was the crown prince of his Democratic Party and its almost inevitable nominee for president in the 1860 election, just two years into the future. By contrast, his Republican Party opponent, Abraham ...

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