Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Leaving on a Jet Plane - Reflections on South Africa

I am about to leave Johannesburg, South Africa for Frankfurt, Germany. Several people have emailed me during my stay in South Africa curious about my experiences here. I promised many of you that I would write a reflection on my stay here. So, here it is…

I have had the privilege of living in this wonderful country for about 2 months. To put things in perspective, even though my travels have taken me to over 25 countries, I have only stayed in 2 other countries (Qatar and the USA) for 2 months consecutively. So, South Africa has been home away from home. About 90% of my time was spent in, and around, Johannesburg. Of the remaining time, about 8%, was spent in Cape Town and 2% in places such as Pilanesberg (the Game Reserve), Pretoria, etc. While in Johannesburg, I stayed in the Melville area, and was a visiting professor at the Department of Information Systems, School of Economic and Business Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand.

Here is a bullet-point summary of highlights and recommendations:

  • South Africa is a humble, warm, and friendly country.
  • The city of Johannesburg is a world-class city. People are extremely friendly, great food, and excellent nightlife (especially in the Melville area!)
  • Cape Town is a beautiful and tranquil city.
  • South Africa has some of the best nature and game reserves in the world (a must see!)

Best things to do in Johannesburg

  • Stay in the Melville area (you will find everything in arms reach, food, pubs, nightlife, malls, universities, bookshops….)
  • Take a day trip to see the Soweto township (while there, visit the Madenla’s House in Orlando, Regina Mundi Catholic Church, and the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum)
  • Visit the apartheid museum (a very moving experience), Museum Africa, South African Breweries –World of Beer, have dinner at Moyo
  • Enjoy the nightlife in Melville (my favorites are Bar Social (if you go there, say hi to Bobby from me), Wish (a nice café, with free wireless internet and excellent steak sandwiches), Ant (a nice NY style Italian Pizzeria), and Nuno’s Restaurant (great Portuguese food, try the Peri-Peri Chicken and the Chouriço)
  • Catch a few rugby matches (at Ellis Park, now called Coca-Cola Park, go and see the Xerox Lions play)
  • Visit the game reserve in Pilanesberg (go on a weekday as it is less crowded…get there early…). If you have a lot of time to spare, spend a few days at Kruger National Park

Best things to do in Cape Town

  • Winelands tour (By far my favorite…lots of great wines to try and indulge in…go with a driver, so that you can actually enjoy the wine and not have to drive!)
  • Castle of Good Hope, Greenmarket, Long Street, and the Iziko Museums of Cape Town are great…
  • Drive around the Cape Peninsula (simply beautiful…see the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Point, and the cities on the coast)
  • Go up Table Mountain

What did I learn from South Africa

  • Staying in this country and seeing its present condition and comparing it to its tragic, and dark, past, has taught me to forgive and the power of reconciliation.
  • The other key learning has been on the nature of life. A large majority of South Africans do not have an easy life. They work hard to put food on the table, and cloth their families. Yet, I did not meet a single one who was not content and had a smile. I was simply taken aback by the optimism here that things will get better. Moreover, people knew how to have a good time with very little. Which makes you think, should “happiness” or “being content” be a measure of progress in societies?
  • People here are motivated to work together, help each other out, and create a beautiful future. People here are friendly and are great hosts. While you do see ruminants of the past, most of the country is moving into a bright future.
  • Before I got here, everyone told me how dangerous and how difficult places were. I have not encountered a single difficult situation or felt threatened. If you come here with an open mind, possess street smarts, and commonsense, you will enjoy this place…
  • Students here are hungry for knowledge and work extremely diligently on their papers and projects. I have learnt more from the students here than they could have learnt from me…
  • Professors and researchers here are equally motivated. My hosts at the various universities (University of the Witwatersrand, University of Cape Town, and the University of Pretoria) took excellent care of me. I have learnt so much from their experiences.
  • South African executives are warm and welcoming. I visited several organizations (e.g. First National Bank, Business Systems Group, members of the South African Defense Forces, etc) during my stay here. Everyone greeted me warmly and openly shared their challenges and areas of opportunities.

I can go on and on, but will stop here…If you have more questions, feel free to send me a private email or post public comments….

In summary, I have had a great time here. I will surely be back.

Thanks to everyone who made me feel at home…Cheers!!!

10 comments:

sgb said...

Wonderful post. I'm the US country manager for the International Marketing Council of SA. I'm putting together a group of bloggers to take to SA the week after Thanksgiving to blog about SA innovation. Do you know any bloggers, yourself included, who might be interesterd. You can reach me via www.brandsouthafricablog.com, where I just linked to this post.

Best

Simon Barber

Peter Baloh said...

Thanx, Kevin, for sharing these experiences with us. Sounds like a great country to visit and I am glad to see that there are still places that can make you feel at home...

Shirley Meyer said...

Very grateful for the review. I have wanted to visit for a while, but was too worried (nervous). I must buy my ticket now. Thanks a million

Kumar Setty said...

Wonderful post! I would love to visit South Africa sometime soon. Glad you had an enjoyable and educational experience.

Anonymous said...

Nice reflections.

Cris Fowler said...

Thanks for the excellent review, Kev. You do a lot to correct misconceptions about SA and make me want to go!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the positive input about our wonderful country. I wish more South Africans would read this and realize what a wonderful country we have.

Anonymous said...

I have made two attempts to go to the UK,this country just has its hooks on me.Its so alive with posibilitis.I wish people could not take the word of the media about Xhenophobic attacks and whites leaving.Its utter rubbish.............

Anonymous said...

I have been to all the major western countries to have a look and see if I would like to live there, and my heart keeps returning to South Africa. When I am overseas and I see anything that is SA related I am proud to be a South African.
We live in an extremely interesting time in the country where tremendous opportunities exist to make a difference in people lives and their future. My desire is to be able to empower people to build a brighter future for themselves. The biggest threat that South Africa has; is South African immigrants who have moved overseas and have nothing good to say about the country. I think that this boils down to their bitterness that they no longer live in this awesome country and they got caught up in the media hype that everything is better overseas just to find out when they got there that it is not actually true.
Last but certainly not least, it is awesome to live in a country where a large portion of the population know, belive and worship God. The church is finally starting to fulfill her function and is becoming pro-active in the community.

God bless South Africa and her wonderful people

Cape Town said...

Fantastic to read this story; It is similar in so many ways to our other foreign friends that come on holiday in South Africa.

Whenever you are in Cape Town [perhaps in 2010 for the Soccer World Cup?] please contact us and we will take you for a similar experience of Cape Town's environs.

Best regards,

CapeTownMagazine.com