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Robert Sutton

Degree:

EMBA

Location:

United Kingdom

Industry:

Construction

Year:

Sep 2017 - May 2019

By Robert Sutton

Visions of Cape Town

There was so much to take in upon arrival in Cape Town; the beauty of the natural backdrop, the ruggedness of informal settlements visible from the highway on the way into town from the airport contrasted with the opulence of Camp’s Bay and the V&A Waterfront, the homeless sitting uncomfortably adjacent to luxurious restaurants and hotels, never letting people forget that all is not well. A city built for the future but spiritually and emotionally shackled by its past, not yet flying free from the perils of corruption, unemployment and economic hardship.

As these initial impressions began to settle, we commenced our learning in class and on field trips helping the EMBA S17 cohort to develop broader and deeper understandings of the history which has led to the current social, economic and political situations. What struck me the most was a brief but incisive description of how Apartheid began: Out of a brutal conflict between the British and the Dutch, the mutual desire to protect wealth, dominance and prosperity rose to the fore and agreements were forged regarding division of the spoils to the cruel, deliberate and planned exclusion of indigenous and/or coloured communities.

Taking some time out, I visited the famous Table Mountain. Sitting atop this newly classified wonder of the world, under a formation that looked to me like a dragon’s head pushing forth from the rocks, reminiscent of a scene from Lord of the Rings, I reflected on my experiences. It dawned on me that people struggle with the same temptation and lure of wealth today as much as they ever have, and the fear of hardship, the fear of discomfort, the fear of financial and material insecurity still drives people to directly or indirectly cause harm to their fellow human beings and Earth.

In consideration of this and prompted by another great session with Kurt April, I contemplated how it becomes ever more important to take time out, escaping the so called ‘rat-race’ to find some solace; time to think and reflect on meaning and purpose, to confront the temptation to strive forward for success and riches without due consideration of deeper consequences both to self and other. People often seem to take security in the pursuit of their endeavours, finding affirmation through cherry-picked social circles made of others likely to be caught up in similar pursuits; people of like mind tend towards each other.

And then there’s Robben Island. Standing off the coast as a constant reminder of the degradation and abuse inflicted on those who were imprisoned there; a physical memory of what those temptations to dominate, protect wealth and get richer can drive people to do. The warmth of the sun which shines on the city cooled by those memories.

While people go about their privileged lives, striving for the next distraction of social entertainment, the city streets and suburbs harbour malcontent, disparity and poverty. The expectation of a new world order post 1994 has, in reality, left many people behind and promoted disillusionment, driving some who find themselves stranded to crime, others to drugs or alcoholism and street life as they grapple with their own desire for wealth and security but find none available.

But, like the hope of Mandela, as I gazed out over Cape Town from my sheltered vantage point, I saw in the Mother City a real living hope which has birthed growing movements of people together seeking to ignore temptation’s call and build a resilient, inclusive future.

Photograph by Susan Webster. EMBA S17. Said Business School, University of Oxford.
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