I can honestly say without a doubt, that this has been my favourite class of the year. No other course has challenged me and entertained me as much, or forced me to think about ideas that are commonplace in our society in a much deeper way.
One of the biggest takeaways from this class came from our very first unit. In our first unit we talked about the different actual types of governments, focusing on the democratic ones. As a citizen of the United States, I’ve never questioned the bicameral presidential system we have, but as we shaped the government of the fictional Xlandia, I was able to consider the merits of other types of government. Its easy to only consider one style of government, but there are significant differences, and understanding these differences help us better understand our own government, as well as that of both our allies and our rivals. In reading outside the class I found a particularly interesting quote about a significant difference between parliamentary and presidential systems. In the immediate aftermath of the Bay of Pigs scandal, President Kennedy spoke with Head of the CIA Allen Dulles.
“Under a parliamentary system of government” Kennedy said, “it is I who would be leaving office. But under our system it is you who must go” (Kinzer 303) This quote underlines one of the fundamental differences in how the two most common forms of democratic government function, and I was almost entirely unaware of these differences until this class.
This class has also helped me process a very important interest of mine. I hold dual citizenship, possessing both an American and a South African passport, and I have always been interested in the politics and government there. South Africa has a parliamentary System and for a long time I really considered it no different to the way the US government functions, but I through this class I have seen some of the key differences. South Africa is a very new democracy, at least in its current form. 2014 was only the 20th anniversary of the first open elections. A warning for the following section, I am a huge fan of the South African political cartoonist Zapiro, and I liberally employ his cartoons to shed light on the political situation, (massive thanks to him for allowing education use of his cartoons).
In the US, I have always been used to essentially a two party system, but in all my experiences of South African politics there has been really only one party, the ANC or African National Congress. The ANC has dominated South African Politics since 1994, and has been mostly without challengers since then. This dominance has remained despite a spotty 20 years of governance. Nelson Mandela, the greatest hero of South Africa, achieved tremendous victories in his years in office as President, in particular his ability to reconcile a nation that had been divided for so long, but even under Mandela the country was still embroiled in various scandals. And the situation has only deteriorated since then.
His Successor Thabo Mbeki was a scandal ridden president who among other issues was an AIDS denialist, manipulated corruptions charges against political opponents, failed to address multiple crisis such as Xenophobic riots and Violence in neighboring Zimbabwe and became increasingly authoritarian throughout his term.
He was succeeded by Jacob Zuma, who to quote the political cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro (AKA Zapiro) “somehow managed to overcome years of personal, financial and political scandals to rise to the highest political office”. Listing the various charges laid against him would take far too long, but notable highlights are his near conviction on corruption charges (only dropped after a judge ruled political interference made a trial impossible), rampant corruption and nepotism in his government, a near conviction for rape (of an HIV positive woman: He stated in the trial that he had taken a shower to minimize the risk of transmissions-this while the head of the national aids council) and most recently he was found to have violated the ethics code over upgrades to his personal estate totalling some 270 million rand (23 million USD). In short, South Africa has issues. But it also has achieved tremendous successes. In a continent home to many president for lifes and rigged elections, South Africa has managed to hold free and fair elections and to have peaceful passage of power. So why is this the case. This question is a very broad one, and in my mind has no definite answer. South Africa does have a few things going for it that other countries perhaps don’t. For instance it has a strong (not exceptional) economy, many natural resources, international support, and engaged populace, and in my opinion most interestingly, a better structure than the leaders who fill it. What I mean by that is that South Africa was able to look at the rest of the world to shape its constitution. They could choose the best of all the ideas available, and when the leadership was up to the task, like President Mandela the country flourished. When the leadership was not up to the task, the strong structure of the government, things like an independent judiciary, and a corruption hunting judicial branch, have helped South Africa soldier on. The politics and government of South Africa have always been of intense interest to me, but through this course I feel that I have a greater understanding of how the situation has turned out the way it is.