Work takes me to many amazing and exotic destinations. The people and experiences I encounter are incredible. During this last visit to South Africa, we made sure on the weekend we saw some sites besides the inside of our office walls. We decided to visit the Apartheid Museum and the Nelson Mandela Family Home in the township of Soweto. I had a preconceived notion that visiting Madiba’s home would inspire me to write about “leadership”. Afterall, HR espouses about leadership all the time and Nelson Mandela was one of the most influential leaders our lifetime. Right? That notion quickly changed after spending the day with our tour driver, Davis.
One Saturday morning, we hired a car from the hotel to take us into the township of Soweto. For those who are too young or possibly don’t remember, Soweto is a township outside of Johannesburg where in the 1980s-90s was a place known for incredible violence, poverty and strife. Davis talked about the past when residents of neighboring townships would not dare to cross town lines for fear of being attacked or killed.
During tour through Soweto, Davis vividly described historical facts and stories about the people and sites we saw. He proudly described Nelson Mandela and how under his leadership and through his actions, people from different townships can now freely interact and connect with each other.
All of a sudden, right out of the blue, Davis pulled over to the side of the road and started speaking in Zulu or Xhosa to a female resident. Near the woman was a little girl smiling and sheepishly waving at us. Then without warning, the barefoot 5-year old, smiling and nodding, climbed into the front seat of our car. We asked Davis if he knew this family. He said ‘No, not really.” What?! My colleague and I looked at each other in astonishment, thinking the same thoughts. What’s happening right now? Are we abducting a child?
With the little girl in the front seat, peeking and smiling at us, we drove about 20 yards and stopped at a small corner bungalow that sold food. We all got out and Davis bought the girl two bags of chips.He then brought a loaf of bread and a liter of soda. By that time, the little girl’s mother had walked down to join us. Davis exchanged a few words with her and handed her the bread and soda. The little girl and her mom walked back to their home and we drove off to see the sites
Yes, I know, this event could have several explanations behind it. What I took away from this encounter dawned on me after what Davis told us the at the end of our 6-hour day. He said he was so happy when he could take outsiders into Soweto. Davis said to us that he wants “outsiders” to see and experience that Soweto was not the unsafe or dangerous area that many believe. He changed my perception and, I believe, he had this planned the whole time.