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South Africa here we are! June 2013 Emzingo Program

by Barbara Schmaehl

After weeks of decision-making and preparation, finally it had arrived: the first day at our projects. The HUB Johannesburg, the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, Eduze, the African Children Feeding Scheme, Artist Proof Studio and Nanga Vhutshilo – it felt a bit like starting school. At least for some… But regardless of the organization we were with, all welcomed us warmly and with plenty of enthusiasm. Some looking forward to the continued good collaboration with Emzingo, while others were happy to have guests in the organization and introduce their new temporary teammates — graduate students from IE Business School, McGill University, Georgetown University and ESADE Business School.


South Africa here we are! Continue reading… 

A great session that first week was the “HIV in the Workplace” evening at Wits Business School. We learnt not only about the infection but also about its specific South African context where 20% of the population are affected by the disease. While new infections seem to be under control at the moment, an entire generation of parents has died in many communities with either the grandparents or elder siblings having to head families.

In South Africa, whose former president decided to ignore HIV – recommending olive oil and beetroot as remedies against its effects – is very common, still, that teenagers from the townships enter into what seems promising relationships with elder, wealthier men only to find themselves single and pregnant and/or HIV-positive later. Looking in the streets at all the advertising posters promoting “legal and pain-free” abortions, one can’t comprehend the extent of unsafe sex still practiced today.

One of our Emzingo-Friday evenings was spent at Dalberg’s offices, a niche management consultancy firm, where we were received with a consulting exercise. For this activity we worked in teams while mentored by a Dalberg consultant. After 90 minutes, the “client” (two of their consultants) challenged each Emzingo team during their presentations. Though fast-paced and intense, the assignment provided some insight into Dalberg’s daily business and allowed us to further discuss their projects with our hosts over well-deserved beers.

Our second Saturday in South Africa we went to Soweto’s Convention Centre where we met Jackie and Mo, good friends of Emzingo. After crossing some train tracks. Mo guided us around one of Soweto’s most impoverished townships, Kliptown, home to roughly 45,000 people, both South Africans and immigrants from surrounding countries. First impression: some mobile toilets scattered in the surrounding landscape. Mo explained that around 20 people have to share one facility, which is being emptied only twice a week – far too few.


Since most of Kliptown is not legally connected to the electric grid, the majority of inhabitants obtain it through makeshift connections from the main power lines to their homes. One family was gracious enough to invite us all into their house, where we could see the bare wires dangling from the ceiling, a sheer hazard particularly for children. Families would use small fire boxes to keep their main room warm. The container has to be brought outside though during the night in order to not suffocate the tenants or create a fire with certain catastrophic consequences for the entire township.

Our guide, Mo, is a social worker at KYP – the Kliptown Youth Program – and we continued our visit to their premises nearby. Here, daily, 400 children are being fed and cared after, providing them with clothes, food, sport activities, and help with their homework. Last year, because of their great achievements, KYP was recognized with awards such as a top CNN Hero Award for Thulani, one of the founders. These have led to additional funds that enabled them to construct a well-equipped computer lab inside a solar powered container.


What a welcome treat when some of the “KYP kids” performed their gumboot dance for us, something they have already performed in front of audiences in China, France and the USA. Impressive, loud and very cool!

After our Kliptown visit, Jackie took over the group and lead us to both Nelson Mandela’s House and Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s neighborhood  later inviting us to her grandma’s house for lunch. And what a lunch it was!!! Jackie’s aunt treated us to delicious food like roasted chicken, beef stew, dumplings, coleslaw, rice, mieliepap and potato salad just to mention some.

Amazingly delicious and very filling, thus a mandatory siesta time…

To finish the day, we went to the Soweto towers, previous power station now bungee jumping venue, that features a chilled bar and restaurant (“chilled” in part because the sun was setting with temperatures dropping quickly with the evening.) With the actual jumping left to other people, our Soweto tour came to an end over drinks, talks and music.


Barbara Schmaehl is an MBA graduate student from IE Business School in Madrid doing her Emzingo NexGen Fellowship in Johannesburg, South Africa. June 2013.

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