Since I have returned from South Africa, I have had time to reflect on my trip and realized what an impact that South Africa had on me in just a two week time period. I have a better understanding for the culture of South Africa because of the history we studied, along with experiencing the culture during the two weeks in Cape Town. South Africa has a very interesting history, having suffered through many wars for territory. The many cultures that fought over the land are still present and now have a sense of pride for their country. The races are very different, and the government operates in eleven different languages to be able to communicate with all of the citizens. I was shocked that South Africa is one of the world’s most proud countries, even though twenty years ago there was segregation that provided preferential treatment to minority whites over majority blacks. The country was very divided and full of racial tension, and now twenty years later, the country is full of patriotism and pride.
Before the trip, I read A Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela, and his autobiography significantly shaped my views about the country. Nelson Mandela went through suffering and hardship for his cause. I gained so much respect for Nelson Mandela when I read his book, and it was magnified when I was able to see Robben Island from the top of Table Mountain. Right now, Nelson Mandela is in the hospital in critical care due to a lung infection that was caused by pneumonia he suffered from earlier in his life. Mandela had pneumonia while living in terrible conditions in prison. This trip showed me that Mandela was a great leader who had a positive impact on his country. Following Mandela’s examples of sacrifice, service, and standing on principle will serve me well as I complete college and move forward with my career and my life.
Another book I read before the trip was Toxic Charity, which assisted me to think critically about the actions I took in Africa. The ideas in this book helped me prepare for the copious amount of beggars along every street. Toxic Charity stresses that you can hurt someone by making them dependent on others, and I felt prepared to not support any of the beggars. I was stunned by the amount of beggars and the stories some of the locals told me about the beggars. One taxi driver told me that one beggar will put her arm inside of her shirt to have the appearance of being without an arm. The reason she did that was to look helpless to persuade tourists to give her money. Also, the taxi driver said there is a rent-a-baby service that the beggars use. The service provides beggars with a baby for the day in order to create sympathy by making it appear like they need money to support their child. My beliefs are similar to the author of Toxic Charity, in that supporting people who are capable of working only hurts them by making them dependent.
The trip to South Africa also allowed me to help children in need by assisting in the construction of an early childhood development center. The work was very difficult, but it also was life changing for me. There are two big points about the construction project that changed my viewpoint. First, the other construction workers did not put in much effort compared to us, presumably because they were paid on hourly rates. They also did not seem to want us involved in the work, perhaps because we would help complete the job much faster (and reduce the amount of money they would make), and because we were taking jobs away from local citizens. Another life changing idea that came out of the construction job was the recognition that we were helping to fight the battle against poverty by creating an environment to assist children in learning and escaping the trap of poverty. As an interesting side note, we also learned an African war cry from Stuart, which helped inspire us to work through the heat.
Another portion of the trip that had a meaningful impact, was listening to the business plans of the students from the University of Cape Town. The entrepreneur students created business plans and pitched their ideas to our group. Their ideas are different than products that are available in the United States, and I could see how a couple of their ideas would become successful products within the United States. Some of the products, however, most likely would not be successful in areas outside of South Africa. For example the swimming pool idea, this was basically a local swimming pool that charged an admission fee. The swimming pool idea was great for the community and city of Cape Town, but would not be successful in other markets.
I was shocked by the extremely large wealth gap in the city of Cape Town. There were enormous houses along the coast and the mountains, located on very valuable plots of land. There were Ferraris, BMWs, and other luxury cars in the streets and just around the block would be a township. The townships would consist of mud huts and tons of wires that went over the houses where people were stealing electricity and cable. To the people in the townships, they felt rich if they owned a television, even if their house had a tin roof that was falling apart. The wealth gap was enormous. There was no middle class, and many people in the townships did not want to put in the effort to escape poverty. Observing this condition reminded me of people who live in poverty in the United States, because they feel entitled to free food and housing from the government. The government has a system that results in people who are trapped in poverty, and those people either do not want to put in the effort to escape or they lack the ability because that is the only life they know.
A memorable lecture was when Kevin Chaplin spoke about Ubuntu, which means warmth for the people. It is a special word in South Africa because it is a quality that people strive to have in their lives. To have Ubuntu means one is very forgiving and a great leader similar to Nelson Mandela. Mandela was very forgiving because he did not seek revenge for being imprisoned for twenty-seven years. Mandela used his time in prison learning and shaping himself as a great leader. This lecture was special to me because I want to be a leader in the business world, and I must learn how to forgive easily and learn from others to shape myself into a better leader.
Another important lesson I learned from this trip is the experience of world travel outside of the United States. I was able to escape the bubble of South Carolina and experience another culture that is very different from the area in which I have lived all of my life. I was able to try new types of food, such as ox tail, and I was able to see wildlife that is nothing like what is in the United States. Being within ten feet of ostriches, zebras, and springbok was incredible. The whole experience of visiting South Africa will have a very significant and positive impact on the rest of my life.