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Spencer Ralph - Labor Relations - Human Resources in South Africa

Published: Wednesday, 29 Nov 2017
Author: Cheryl Ann Benner
Department: Office for Education Abroad

Name: Spencer Ralph

Status: Masters

Major: Human Resources and Labor Relations

Hometown: East Lansing, MI

Program: Labor Relations/Human Resources

Thanks to Michigan State University's generous scholarship donors, I was fortunate to visit South Africa for two weeks. South Africa, like all nations, has a disturbing past. Since it is only 23 years removed from the Apartheid, racism, gentrification, and discrimination are all still very relevant issues in South Africa.

Unfortunately, since South Africa is only 23 years removed from the Apartheid Era, it still has much work to do. For example, when Nelson Mandela became the first freely-elected President of South Africa, he inherited an economic, socio-political, and educational mess. The education system is rigged to give privileged families a leg up in society, since most teachers are not willing to voluntarily work in the townships. This educational gap leads to worse job opportunities for "black Africans", which only makes the country more gentrified and extends the gap between "black and white".

My study abroad group had the unique experience of taking a "township tour". Townships are the government-funded areas where "black Africans" were forced to live during the Apartheid. These areas are composed of tiny shacks where the population resides. However, these shacks are too small to support most families and serve as a constant reminder of the horrors of Apartheid.

Despite these negative aspects, South Africa has so much potential. We studied Labor Relations at Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth with 27 other South African master's students. Not only did these students impress me with their intellectual curiosity, but also with their dedication to fight for what is right. These students live and breathe social justice and will stop at nothing until South Africa rights the wrongs of its history.

The hope that springs from inside the townships was one of the most uplifting experiences that I have had in some time. Although many of the children were shoeless in their winter months (South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere), they still radiate a joy and enthusiasm for life that is unmatched by most Americans who have everything. The Stars of Hope, a gospel choir that sang for us during our township tour, vocalized this same hope for a better future and inspired all of us to live fuller lives upon returning home.

As always, when I travel, I return home humbled about the many opportunities that I have. South Africans, despite centuries of neglect, systemic racism, and disrespect, remain hopeful about their future. As Americans, it is easy to rest on our laurels and forget about the woes of the world. However, it is our duty, as people who have seen other nations, to spread positivity wherever we go and to bring the best aspects of other cultures back to the USA. I promise to do just that.

As Nelson Mandela once said, "After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb." 

I will never forget my trip to South Africa. It is a beautiful country that has overcome much adversity to only find that there is so much more to defeat. Its citizens will relentlessly advocate for good and we must do the same in the US to reach the top of the hill.