Alumni Spotlight: How I Became A Better South African
By Brandon Faber, Cape Town Alumni, October 2017
In South Africa, the war cry of “One Settler One Bullet” has long been the mantra of the more militant role players in the struggle for democracy.
While that cry doesn’t constantly hum through our city streets, it’s safe to say that today, this Rainbow Nation (at least on surface level) remains largely divided – hampered by our apartheid-past and our mismanaged present; shackled by an unyielding wave of corruption; burdened by the balancing act of modern economics and historical inequalities.
Yes, at face value, in the screaming headlines of our newspapers and booming voices of public dissent, it’s easy to find hope lost, dreams shattered, and a faded rainbow under cloudy skies.
It’s easy to believe that, for South Africa, the fat lady is clearing her throat, waiting to sing us off as we march into the sunset of oblivion, as just another failed state.
Yes, it’s easy. But it’s also wrong. And it took being a tourist in my own country to realize it.
New. Unfamiliar. Unsettled.
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon on October 1st when I landed in Cape Town. This is not a new trip for me. Living in Johannesburg, and having offices in the Mother City means that, for me, there is nothing new about arriving a day early to be ready for Monday morning meetings in Cape Town.
This Sunday was a little different, though.
It was all about the new, the unfamiliar and the Unsettled.
Like so many of my friends and colleagues I was starting to feel the deadweight of routine around my ankles – a constant gnawing that there was more to life than making a decent wage and taking the occasional holiday. I had to change something. Somehow.
So, I joined Unsettled for a month of living, working, sharing and experiencing my home country through the eyes of a new (and diverse) family.
And by October 31st, I had a different view of this world and our responsibilities in it.
30 Days Of Magic
The Cape Town October 2017 crew (with a major lot missing)
As I arrived at one of the three Unsettled villas in exquisitely beautiful Camps Bay, our South African Experience Leader, Lynne Scullard, and Location Manager, Mel Cook, greeted me with smiles and the embrace of old friends.
Friendly faces arrived from as far as Hawaii, each remarkably with the same open (albeit travel weary) arms, eyes, minds and hearts.
25 of them, plus the hosting team, all proved effervescent in their nature, infectious in their passions and insightful in their views on business, life and what success means on a planet consumed by hysteria and hyperbole.
“Not one asshole in the lot!” was my assessment after day one ended. Even though it might have ended in a tequila-fuelled haze along the famous Camps Bay strip.
But tequila aside, “Not one asshole in the lot” it remained.
This is special, especially if you consider that almost 30 people stayed together for one full month, and from all walks of life. A firm nod of approval to the Unsettled application and vetting process!
Expect The Unexpected. Explore The Unexplored.
Cape Town is beautiful, but it’s not for everyone.
It’s a city that brings together cultures, religions and diverse political views, but it’s also a city of struggle and strife where the warm lights of tourist-friendly hubs do not touch less-favoured city streets. It’s where daily challenges to survive are as real as they are in Buenos Aires, London, Los Angeles or Hong Kong.
While surfing, hiking and dipping in the pool between Skype meetings were common activities among the group during our month, one afternoon, a bunch of us decided to venture out to a township just outside the city airport.
I had my reservations about going to the informal settlement of Khayelitsha. Not because I’d never been, but because, as a white South African, I anticipated a fair amount of tough questions directed my way.
On many levels I was heading for something considerably far removed from my comfort zone, and rightly so.
I was in primary school when Nelson Mandela raised a fist in freedom for the first time. I was in high school when our democracy saw the light of day and I remember the changing of flags, anthems, nervous tensions and elated energies as the world stared in amazement at this miracle on the southern tip of Africa.
I was there in the beginning and I’ve watched this nation triumph and falter, get back up and keep its collective spirits high as the struggle for the Promised Land proved (and is proving) to be more difficult than we imagined.
I was there for it all, and the questions did come thick and fast, but not in the manner, tone, or intent I was expecting.
Purpose hides in funny places
What I found while being generously hosted for dinner in the midst of heart-breaking poverty, was warmth and friendship, a desire to connect and converse, to share ideas and tell the other side of our South African story.
Sitting there in the middle of a shack, in a township far removed from our villas, I rediscovered what it meant to be a citizen of this nation.
Over wine and laughter, meat and potatoes, I met our host’s wife and daughters, listening to his struggles for a home of their own. For me, watching a man who is proud of his family and wants nothing more but a better life and a brighter future, was everything.
Walking through the township I, once again, realized that accessible education is the vehicle of change that will help realise the dreams of our host and millions like him who have no choice but to live in a world that is unsettled and, often, unfair.
On a quiet Khayelitsha street, I found my renewed purpose.
You can’t do epic sh*t with basic people
I could probably write a book about the activities and the camaraderie experienced during my 30 days of living Unsettled.
I could tell you about all the dinners. The beautifully arranged excursions. The ups and downs and days where things did not go 100% according to plan. I could tell you about the beauty of Cape Town and the many surreal opportunities she offers on land and sea. But then my job is not to sell the venue because, let’s be honest – the venue matters little if you don’t have the right kind of people to explore it with.
Unsettled Cape Town brought together a mix of personalities and opinions from far and wide.
Through family dinners, one-on-one conversations, game nights and more serious debates we found common ground, pushing for answers to the tougher questions and problems of our present and future generation.
Through our collective willingness to engage in an open, honest fashion we found friendships that are going to last a lifetime.
I am the first in-country participant of the Unsettled program, and I’m not nearly as done yet.
I will be back. But this time with my wife, Leila, who was the main driving force behind my participation in the first place (thank you, babe!).
If you’re on the fence with doing something similar, I encourage you to let go of the ‘buts’ in your life and the reasons you ‘can’t do x, y or z’. I encourage you to banish your blockages of self-doubt, hesitation, apprehension and just go for it.
Whatever your ‘it’ is.
My ‘it’ was taking that one small step towards the creation of a different type of existence.
But it was also taking that one giant leap towards being a better South African.
Brandon Faber hails from Johannesburg and has pretty much always been involved with advertising, marketing, digital and content generation in some shape or form. He was the first Unsettled participant to join us for a retreat in his own country, and loves nothing more than sharing old stories and new ideas with great people, around a fire, preferably with a few beverages in hand. If he could go to Mars today he would . . . with his wife, of course!