For Whom the Bell Tolls

As I stepped off the plane and drove through the bustling streets of Cape Town, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of excitement wash over me. It was my first time in the Mother City, and I couldn’t wait to explore everything it offered. As I checked into my apartment, I was greeted by the usual amenities – a comfortable bed, a small kitchenette, and a small balcony with the sounds of birds and the busy city. But as I settled in, I noticed something out of the ordinary: a book left behind by the previous guests, “For Whom The Bell Tolls” by Earnest Hemingway. It was an unexpected but welcome addition to my visit. As I held the book in my hands, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of serendipity. Here I was, in an unfamiliar place, and the first thing I came across was a book that explores themes of love, sacrifice, and the horrors of conflict. While the novel has nothing to do with South Africa, it reminds us of the human cost of conflict and the importance of standing up for what is right. Themes that South Africa, unfortunately, is very familiar with.


While in Cape Town, I spoke with local entrepreneurs and learned about the unique challenges and opportunities of doing business in this diverse and divided country. I learned that success in business is not something you achieve alone in Cape Town. Instead, it is developed over time, building communities, while some entrepreneurs even provide education and housing. A prospering business can be difficult in a country with extreme poverty and still divided by inequality and lack of access to good education. Despite the “leading narrative” that apartheid ended, many South Africans still face economic and social disparities that prevent them from achieving their full potential. Additionally, Cape Town has a high unemployment rate, which exacerbates the problem of poverty. As a result, finding work is difficult, and those who do often earn low wages that are not enough to cover their basic needs. This leaves many families struggling to make ends meet and can lead to a downward spiral of debt and desperation, sometimes leading to criminal activities.


Upon visiting a township, I saw firsthand the difficulties many South African communities face. The mix of emotions struck me as I saw the early signs of progress and entrepreneurial spirit, but I was also shocked by the poor living conditions and lack of opportunities for most. I felt guilty for being a wealthy tourist observing the poverty of others, like some poverty safari. It was difficult to reconcile the notion that our current prosperity was partly built on the suffering of others.


To address the issue of poverty in Cape Town, there must be a concerted effort to address the underlying causes of the problem. This means addressing the legacy of apartheid and working to create a more inclusive and equitable society. It also means investing in affordable housing and job training programs and improving access to education. By investing in education, South Africa can work towards a more just and equitable society for all its citizens. One example is the Sustainability Institute, which provides housing, jobs, and education for its community. This concept of community building is also seen at several regional wineries. As the week progressed at Stellenbosch University, it became clear through several guest lectures that hardship has formed this country and its inhabitants into a more resilient state. A state that slowly learns to be more independent by working together.


Overall, poverty and inequality are complex issues that require a multifaceted approach. While there is no quick fix, I believe in local organizations like the Sustainability Institute and the entrepreneurs I’ve met in Cape Town who have embraced the concept of community building as a form of ethical leadership. They have the potential to reduce South Africa’s inequality and strengthen the country’s global standing. It is possible to make sustainable progress and improve the lives of those living in poverty by addressing the root causes of the problem and working together. We can all be change agents by aspiring to lead or assist others, and it is critical to continue fighting for what is right, as the main character in “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Remember that real change starts small, but when we all work together, we can make a big difference.



This column is written by On-Campus MBA student Jack Croes as part of our On-Campus MBA International week. Our On-Campus track has an on campus learning format and is part of the executive modular part-time MaastrichtMBA programme. The programme has a Triple Crown accreditation and is aimed for professionals with at least 5 years of working experience.

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