Cape Town and Parting Thoughts

We’ve arrived safely back in frigid, snow-covered NYC, which stands in stark contrast to our final destination on the 2014 Chazen Study Tour in South Africa: Cape Town.

To demonstrate, I’ll post three photos and you’ll guess which one is not like the others. Here goes:

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(It is C. It’s always C.)

Cape Town was remarkable in its natural beauty and in how it differed from Johannesburg. A trip down to the waterfront or up to the top of Table Mountain makes it abundantly clear why the privileged residents of Johannesburg escape to Cape Town for vacation. It is a wonderful place to relax. For consistency’s sake, I might liken Cape Town to San Francisco because of their similarly rugged coast, stunning landscapes, and outdoorsy culture. Cape Town does, however, seems to lack the Silicon Valley energy of SF. Instead, it has much more of a beach town vibe.

While yours truly and the rest of the CBS gang did indeed take advantage of the good life in Cape Town, we also managed to fit in a bit more culture and business education into our final 3 days in South Africa.

Koos Becker, CEO, Naspers

Meeting with Mr. Becker, an alum of CBS, and his team at Naspers was not only a treat because of his insight into the media industry and entrepreneurship, but also because he invited us to his 600 acre estate (which features a farm, orchard and vineyard, a 14-room hotel and a restaurant) for a wine tasting after our meeting at Naspers’ headquarters.

Being an entrepreneur is very lonely and very hard. You need thick skin and some ‘defect’, which makes you want to prove yourself.

Fail hard, fail fast, fail cheaply.

While Naspers has become an incredible success as South Africa’s media powerhouse, he emphasized that entrepreneurship is immensely difficult and conceded that Naspers has made its share of mistakes along the way. He encouraged us to think beyond the glamor of starting a business and to start developing a certain level of fortitude and resilience if we wanted to be successful entrepreneurs. As the second quote suggests, Mr. Becker felt strongly that it was OK (indeed requisite) to fail in business, but that failure should be a source of learning and inspiration in one’s career.

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Wine Tasting at the Babylonstoren Vineyard
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Koos Bekker’s Babylonstoren Estate

Robben Island

As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison. -Nelson Mandela

On Saturday morning we took a 40 minute boat ride out to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison. The visit featured a bus tour around the island and then a walking tour into the high security prison and cell that Mandela called home for nearly two decades. Of special note, the prison tour was led by a former political prisoner. It was certainly a highlight of the trip and small glimpse into what Mandela, and many of his colleagues in the struggle against Apartheid, endured on his “Long Walk to Freedom”.

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Table Mountain & Some Final Thoughts

Looming over Cape Town is Table Mountain, named so because it looks deceptively flat. Here is a photo taken from my hike to the top of another peak in Cape Town, Lion’s Head:

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When the clouds sit on Table Mountain (as shown in the photo), the locals the call it a “Table Cloth”.

On our final evening in Cape Town, we headed up to the top of Table Mountain to take in the magnificent views and get a feel for what it is like to hang out in the clouds. While the great majority of the crew took the civilized way up via cable car. My fearless roommate for the trip, Riley English ’15, and I decided we’d hike it up.

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We got lost along the way, but we mad it, and it was well worth the steep (and sweaty) march to the top.

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Parting Thoughs

In the glow of the glory that accompanied summiting Table Mountain, or perhaps in the altitude sickness (see grimaces in Exhibit A below), my appreciation for our time in South Africa hit hard.

Exhibit A

In South Africa, we had taken a whirlwind tour through so many issues that relate to the modern condition. We had seen the bright spots: thriving businesses, successful entrepreneurs, democracy, vibrant cities, and a pervasive but cautious optimism about the emerging economy. On the other hand, we saw some real challenges: tremendous poverty in areas like Soweto, growing income inequality, security threats and fear (manifested in the barbed wire and armed guards), and the broader socioeconomic scars from a bygone era of institutionalized racism.

During one of our bus tours around Johannesburg, Uzayr Jeenah ’14, one of our tour leaders, leaned over to me and pointed to the largest building in city, Ponte Tower. Uzayr explained that, based on its storied history of ups and downs, Ponte can be viewed as a barometer for the African economy as a whole. In the bleak Apartheid years of the 1980s, the South African government considered turning Ponte into a prison. These days, however, Ponte is (albeit slowly) being converted into luxury condos, which is perhaps indicative of South Africa’s generally improving economic trajectory.

Uzayr continued by saying that as goes Ponte so does Johannesburg, and as goes Johannesburg so goes South Africa and its economy. Finally, according to Uzayr’s analogy, as goes South Africa so goes the African continent. While my time in the country was admittedly brief, many of the issues and opportunities in South Africa seemed more universal. As I sign off of my last post, I am tempted to suggest that as goes Ponte so too goes the rest of the world, but I fear that places too heavy a burden on one building’s infrastructure.

Thank you for reading!

-Samuel Wollner ’14

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