I heard the greeting through the South African airways. This was the sound good morning in the Zulu language, one of South Africa’s three official languages.
I and a few of my fellow Weekend MBA cohort on the Global Experience Week arrived early to take in the beautiful surroundings at a leisurely pace. We had been warned by our admin team after all that this wouldn’t be a five star holiday. On Monday morning, the trip really began with most of our 70-strong cohort having arrived at the Hilton hotel that we would be calling home for the next week.
Thankfully the trip organisers eased us into our intrepid journey with a tour around the city, led by our local tour guide. We learned more about South Africa’s dark past, as well as the strides that the rainbow nation has taken over the years since apartheid rule. Our tour took us past Cape Town’s natural wonder Table Mountain, unfortunately we weren’t able to scale its heights or take the cable car ride as planned due to bad weather. As the locals say, the mountain had its table cloth on that day. We did manage to see it later in the week and it was stunning!
In the evening, we were treated to a 14 course meal at Gold, a traditional style restaurant that takes diners through 14 dishes from across the African continent interspersed with stunning vocalist, dancers and actors entertaining the diners with traditional music from a range of African nations. The entertainment team didn’t disappoint. Costumes were rich in strong vibrant shade of gold, red and green. We were offered tribal face painting as the entertainment staff, who also doubled as waiters and waitresses, tended to our tables. The culmination of the night ended with the whole cohort learning to play a tune on the drums. Needless to say there was much laughter and many, many wrong notes!
The following days we got straight down to business with a stern warning from our admin team that the buses wait for no man or woman. We had a seminar with guest speaker Ryan Ravens, CEO of Accelerate. He gave us a comprehensive overview of South Africa’s current economic and political situation, and areas of innovation and entrepreneurship. He was very knowledgeable about this area and answered a lot of our questions, which ranged from business opportunities, to nurturing talent and the view from the ground.
Our first visit on the bus was to the inspirational Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation based in the township of Philippi. The speakers helped to bring some of the stark challenges home to us. What struck me in particular was being told that the first level of antiviral drugs are free via the health service in South Africa but due to a variety of different reasons be that stigma, depression, family pressure etc some people don’t continue to take the drugs that they need daily. If the drug isn’t taken daily the patient becomes resistant to this level of drug and then needs to take the next level up (there are 3 levels). This isn’t subsidised by the government and therefore costs a lot more and this level of the antiviral drugs is unattainable to the people who need it most. The foundation in Philippi uses a variety of methods to continue efforts to treat and prevent HIV, and focus especially on teenagers and young people. We were also able to speak with Lavinia Brown who, before retiring, was Desmond Tutu’s personal assistant. She definitely didn’t disappoint, speaking of Nobel prize-winning Desmond Tutu and some of the amazing stories about his time as Archbishop.
The next visit we made was to Pick and Pay, where the Head of Marketing took us through the company history, expansion plans and strategies looking ahead to the future. For me, I found the most interesting part of the talk was the commercial aspect of how the company needs to cater for a vast disparity in wealth of the South African population. Pick and Pay also has really strong core values that support employees, suppliers, partners and the environment. It was great to see in action the help they give to entrepreneurs, developing their products for sale within Pick and Pay stores.
After all that our cohort kicked back in the evening enjoying two very different types of events. Many of the group took to Clifton Bay to view a stunning sunset aboard a champagne cruise. While others went on a tour of a township, where they got to experience the less privileged side of Cape Town, far removed from the modern amenities of the famous V&A waterfront. The group had a tour around the township and enjoyed dinner with a local family
One of the most harrowing visits we made as a group was a tour of Robben Island. Amongst the many political prisoners, the island most famous prisoner 46664 Nelson Mandela. Of course, we couldn’t have visited Cape Town without seeing a vineyard; we visited one of South Africa’s biggest business success stories: Thokozani winery.
The trip’s schedule was jam packed with commercial and cultural items. I think I can speak for the whole Weekend MBA cohort when I say that the trip was an amazing experience that gave us a broader outlook of South Africa and showed us that despite its challenges the country is bursting with opportunity.