Sitting at Cape Town international airport, I think back to the past three weeks that I have been travelling around Africa's southern Cape, teaching entrepreneurship, business and marketing skills to budding entrepreneurs in the townships.

Although I have been coming out here for the past seven years to visit these communities along the beautiful Garden Route, the scenery and the people never cease to impress me. However, as with every other family in any other country, behind the beauty there are the stresses and strains of one kind or another.

Particularly with township life, the media often seems to portray this as one only of violence, drug culture and crime. However, I have often stayed with families in different townships and have experienced community life at first hand — and it is predominantly one of caring and supporting others within the community. There is, of course, crime, as there is in London or New York or anywhere else — but the difference is that on a South African township there is the spirit of what they call ‘ubuntu', humanity to others — an idea that seems to have been lost in modern societies in the Western hemisphere.

Township life

Esme is a well-dressed, attractive 65-year-old African lady, who lives amongst the beautiful wine-growing areas of Stellenbosch in the township of Kayamandi, in the western Cape. The views from her modest, yet spotlessly clean home that lies in the foothills of the local mountain range, are truly magnificent. She operates her home as a Bed & Breakfast Guest House, which is known locally as a Homestay, and her guests include many holiday students from overseas who need a place to sleep for a few nights or more. Sometimes, they will come as volunteers to experience township life at first hand and to work on a community project for a month or so. However, last year the number of visitors declined owing to both the world recession and also to the adverse publicity given to crime in the townships. Despite this, the Fifa World Cup was hosted by South Africa, in mid-2010, and was a great success with millions of visitors coming to the brand new stadiums, with very little reported problems.

Unfortunately, despite having vast mineral resources, state education in the Republic of South Africa is still poor, for notwithstanding government efforts, too many children still attain adulthood with little or no marketable skills. Self-sufficiency appears to be the key to life on the townships, and Esme is a perfect example of this, which demonstrates that in order to succeed, one has to keep motivated, find and take opportunities, be part of the community and, believe in God. It seems to work!

Government funding for education is increasing, but slow. In the meantime, maybe we can learn a good deal from Esme and the spirit of ‘ubuntu'.

Key points

  • Motivation and commitment are key factors for self sufficiency
  • ‘Ubuntu' and community support help everyone
  • Entrepreneurship and marketing skills are essential business tools

The author is a BBC guestbroadcaster and Motivational Speaker. She is CEO of an
international stress management and employee wellbeing consultancy based in London. Contact them for proven stress strategies –