Faculty Reflection

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Min-Dong Paul Lee

Norris A. Alden Chair in Business, Associate Professor, Department of Business and Economics

Few countries experienced such social turmoil and trauma as South Africa (SA) did during the last half century. The apartheid regime that lasted from 1948 to 1994 created the most brutal and far-reaching system of racial segregation in modern history. Its devastating impact on the black and colored citizens of SA, who make up more than 90% of SA’s population, is still deeply felt. Yet, during our trip to SA this summer, we saw many glimmers for hope and change. It was a tremendous privilege to hear the first-hand account of SA’s history and future vision from ordinary citizens as well as political and business leaders of SA.

The pivotal point in historic change came in 1990 when President F.W. de Klerk introduced radical reforms. He announced that he would lift the ban on the African National Congress, which was the leading political organization of black Africans, and release political prisoners including Nelson Mandela. During our visit, we had the privilege of meeting President de Klerk in person. In his remarks, he stated that the decision to end apartheid was certainly not easy. Many from his own political party strongly opposed it. Despite the opposition, he highlighted two reasons for persisting. First, he mentioned that he could not reconcile the apartheid with his Christian moral conscience. Secondly, the pressures from the business community to end apartheid were intensifying. Many international businesses operating in SA not only directly lobbied the SA government to end apartheid, but also lobbied their home governments to exert more pressure on SA. The combined force of inner conviction and external stimuli enabled President de Klerk to overcome significant political challenges and brought the apartheid to an end.

Although the official Apartheid ended in 1994, the vestiges of apartheid still remain in the form of persistent residential segregation and economic inequality. Nonetheless, during our visit, we saw clear signs of change. Interestingly, those changes stem from the same sources that President de Klerk mentioned: faith and business. Most of the society is still divided by racial lines. Yet, we saw a few integrated communities such as the church we visited in suburban Johannesburg. We saw people of all colors worshipping and serving together. It may not be a perfect community, but it was a community where grace was evident. We also saw glimmers of hope at a cookie factory near Cape Town began by Christian business people. The company called Khayelitsha Cookies began with a vision of providing jobs to unskilled and under-educated women in a neighboring township (i.e. slum in U.S. English). It also helps its workers to make the transition to other businesses by offering various business training. Currently, it hires 70 such women. However, the manager, Adri Williams’ eyes sparkled when she talked about her vision of expanding the factory and creating jobs for 1,000 women.

These are just snippets of what the ISI team learned and experienced in SA. The trip also gave an ample opportunity to learn from each other and deepen friendship as we laughed, suffered, prayed and conversed together. It was an experience that will no doubt have a reverberating effect on our intellectual and spiritual life.

 

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