By Howard Wallack

In earlier blogs I wrote how complex South Africa seems to those of us participating in the U.S.-South Africa HR Executive Delegation. Now, let’s add resilient. This, in spite of the unfathomably high unemployment, gaps in talent and skills, and the heated politics we’ve discovered from reading the local paper.

Our visit has included two ‘must see’ stops in the country for tourists and South Africa citizens alike—the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg and Robben Island, the country’s version of Alcatraz. The barren island prison just off the coast of Cape Town is where Nelson Mandela and many political prisoners were once held. The two sites complement one another. The Apartheid Museum carefully documents and explains the painful history of racial segregation. Robben Island serves, for us visitors, as a living testament to how that insidious policy actually played out. Both are truly shocking to the senses, disturbing, sobering, and numbing, all at once, and they transmit the country’s wounded history as a legacy and a warning to never forget Apartheid.

Our guide through the cell blocks on Robben Island was a political prisoner himself, spending seven years in the prison alongside Mandela. He diligently shared their experiences. Political prisoners were forced to live regimented lives, frequently tortured and held in solitary confinement, harassed, and constantly debased. Yet, amazingly, our guide, Mandela, and many others have embraced forgiveness, reconciliation, and an undying and unfailingly optimistic hope that the future brings better things.

That’s not just resilience—but true inspiration!

Howard Wallack is SHRM’s Director of Global Member Programs and Global Business Development. Senior HR professionals participated in  an HR management delegation to South Africa through Nov. 7. Howard’s blog continues through Friday, Nov. 9. 

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