South-Africa: huge opportunity combined with major challenges

by Natascha Walenberg, VoyEdge


In November I had the opportunity to organize and facilitate a business inspiration journey to South Africa for the Rabobank and her business clients from the regions of Zwolle and Hardenberg. With a focus on Cape Town, we learned about chances and challenges in the Western Cape. 

What I take home is a feeling of huge opportunity combined with major challenges. You can make a lot of (social) impact by building a high performing sustainable business, but you also need a lot of perseverance to overcome difficulties regarding red tape and corruption, basic business needs as continuous electricity, finding the right people, infrastructure and crime. If you are up to that challenge, it’s a beautiful country to be in.

It has only been 25 years since the end of Apartheid. Unfortunately, a lot of South-Africans still cannot be free because they lack enough food, proper shelter, quality healthcare and a job. The unemployment rate is 29 %. Under youth it’s even 58 %. South-Africa is one of the most unequal countries worldwide. 10% of the population owns more than 90% of all wealth, and 80% of the population owns no wealth at all. 

The past decades the leadership of South-Africa has not been able to change this and especially President Zuma’s presidency is known for corruption, mismanagement and the abuse of state institutions, like state power company Eskom. During our business trip we learned that people hope that the in 2019 appointed President Ramaphosa, the former protégé of Mandela and a successful businessman, will be able to transform the leadership of the country. Still he has a considerable task ahead, not only regarding the challenges in the country, but also regarding the struggles within his political party the ANC. 

With this being said, we also learned that South Africa has a lot of opportunity. There are many entrepreneurs that are trying to solve all kinds of challenges with their businesses. During our trip we’ve met with Lars Veul, cofounder of Pargo, who tries to solve the unreliable postal system by building a parcel delivery platform with pick-up points. This is not only important for businesses and people who want their parcels to be delivered on time, but their platform can also have a huge impact in better distributing medicines.

Next to that we’ve met people who’ve built successful initiatives to give the younger generation better chances. During our program we visited the founders of Starting Change in the township of Mfuleni. It’s truly inspiring to see how they dedicate their lives to give young children from this unprivileged area a better chance in life by providing good daycare, healthy meals and after-school activities, in which they learn all kinds of skills and are not tempted to turn to crime.

During our trip we realized that some of the important challenges in South-Africa will probably take at least another generation to be solved. At the same time, we experienced a lot of bottom-up activities by individuals who want to make a change, also by building sustainable businesses. Hopefully the new leadership can further strengthen this positive movement.