An International Perspective

Friday afternoon, I had the opportunity to interact with South African lawmakers who were in Columbia, SC during a two-week visit in the United States through the American Council of Young Political Leaders. (One of the functions of the ACYPL is to provide an exchange for leaders from other parts of the world and here in the United States).

Two years ago, Representative Ted Pitts (R-Lexington) spent two weeks in South Africa and now it was the United States’ turn to host that delegation.

Pictured above with other local representatives from our area are A.M. Shimi Phate, John Steenhuisen, Jacqueline Reilly, and Tsakane Mahlaule.

During our hour-and-a-half candid conversation, it was interesting to learn about the politics of another country as well as outsiders’ views of America.

A few takeaways from this meeting for me were:

* Members of South African parties are not “allowed” to vote agains the party. Political parties (and there are several) yield much more “power” than they do here. If an elected official votes against his/her party, chances are very high that official will be removed by that party.

* Many question America’s “cowboy” role in this world and how we decided to invade Iraq (oil interests) but not other countries under control of cruel dictators. (I’ll bite my tongue here)

* Terms of office (local, state, and national) are generally longer in South Africa than our terms here. Usually a five-year term is the norm there.

* Women hold many more offices than they do here in the US, especially here in South Carolina. Parties actually encourage female participation.

* A candidate’s marital status plays no part in voter’s decisions. It was noted that only 1 of the 4 guests were married. Two were single women.

* Our campaigns (culture) focus much more on the “politics of destruction” and it seems we are always looking for faults in people’s past in hopes to discredit current positions or credibility. Particularly, this group mentioned how they could not believe how attacking the media was on our own President and others.

It was an interesting exchange…and we did have time to drift from politics to talk about other topics. When asked about their television viewing, the answers ranged from “Desperate Housewives” to “The Office”. (Right or wrong, these shows are what the world gets to see of America. Of course The Office is a personal favorite so I hope the humor plays well overseas.)