We kicked off 2019 with more than 20 hours of travel to the southern tip of Africa, to Cape Town. Leaving New York’s winter behind, we were welcomed by a blissful, Mediterranean-like breeze. Our home for the next two weeks was mere steps away from a developed, bustling waterfront. During our time at the University of Cape Town, we dug beneath the surface and explored underlying facets of Cape Town that are rarely seen by tourists.
South Africa has a complex business environment. We learned about a variety of topics ranging from food security to investing in sustainability projects. Across these topics, the prevailing theme was the impact of political and social tensions on businesses large and small. This complexity is driven by South Africa’s unique history. Non-whites, making up approximately 80 percent of the population, were displaced in the late 19th century until the end of the apartheid. They were relegated to live in townships – underdeveloped segregated areas on the periphery of towns. Now with the upcoming general elections this May, the sixth election held since the end of the apartheid system, the continuing issue of land rights was front and center in many of our discussions.
One highlight of our journey was visiting the township and hearing from Mandla Majola, a social activist. This opened our eyes to the dichotomy in Cape Town’s social structure. The need to improve access to basic needs in Maslow’s hierarchy stood in stark contrast to the modern waterfront community where we stayed. This helped broaden our perspective to realize there is significant opportunity within the “base of the pyramid” population, who live on less than $2.50 per day.
While widespread inequality and unemployment are prevalent issues, we recognized that there was also a plethora of opportunities. Entrepreneurs in townships are providing services that filled gaps in their respective communities, ranging from local internet cafes to tuck shops. We also witnessed the effort of innovative corporations such as large retailers, wind and solar energy farms, and premium online education startups.
Outside of class, we explored the dynamic food scene in Cape Town from fresh seafood and game meats to Cape Malay cuisine. We complemented the food experience with a visit to Groot Constantia to sample local wines. To balance out all the delicious food and drinks, many students hiked up Table Mountain and saw breathtaking views of the city.
Over the weekend, a large group of students flew to Kruger national park to explore the Safari. They were very lucky to see all of the ‘Big Five” Safari animals: the lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and the buffalo. Yet another group went shark diving and had a once in a lifetime experience.
All in all, the trip was an unforgettable experience with an amazing group of Sternies. There was a dose of an immersive flavor of South Africa, which was only made possible through the DBi.