On August 31, 2022, 15 Houston delegates participated in the Houston International Trade Development Council (HITDC) Trade Mission to South Africa. The purpose of the trade mission was to explore business opportunities in Cape Town and Johannesburg South Africa and to understand the business, social, and cultural dynamic of the country. Despite HITDC’s meticulous planning and attention to detail while preparing for the trip, no one could have imagined the breadth and depth of the delegates’ experiences and how the trip might impact their lives.
On day-one in Cape Town, the delegation attended a business briefing and was welcomed by several members from the U.S. Commercial Services, U.S. Department of Commerce/Information Trade Administration, U.S. Consulate Cape Town & Wesgro, and Cape Town and Western Cape Trade Promotion. The delegation received a personal welcome from the Honorable Alderman James Vos, Mayoral Committee Member for Economic Growth. Following the business briefing, the days in Cape Town were filled with exploration, excitement, and wonderment that included a view of the obscured silhouette of Robben Island from the Cape Town waterfront coastline, the breathtaking views of Tabletop Mountain, the majestic towering structures of Disciple Mountains, the heavenly manicured wine vineyards throughout the countryside, the roaring Atlantic Ocean’s perpetually pounding waves on the beaches, the community of penguins engulfed by the cool, misty ocean breeze, and the continuous whitecaps that escorted the penguins onto the shore of their secluded beachfront habitat. That said, it is impossible to articulate the immense beauty of Cape Town. Then, just when the delegation thought it has seen the best of South Africa, it was mesmerized by the throbbing energy of Johannesburg. Their arrival in Johannesburg brought new appreciation for one of Africa’s most energetic business hubs.
Like in Cape Town, the delegation was welcomed to Johannesburg with a business briefing hosted by the U.S. Consulate Johannesburg and AmCham Johannesburg at GIBS Business School. The delegation was greeted by Honorable Vincent Spera, Consul General, U.S. Department of State, followed by panel discussions led by various leaders of business, academia, and government. Later that evening, the delegation was treated to a private, traditional South African Braai at the residence of the Honorable Vincent Spera where the delegation was serenaded by soulful, authentic African rhythms and hymns seemingly choreographed by the spirits of Africa’s ancient ancestors. As it the riveting performance were not enough, it culminated with a warm welcome and personal reflections from the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, H.E. Reuben Brigety. In the days that followed, the delegation visited several sights in Johannesburg including the Apartheid Museum, Soweto Township, Mandela Square, and many others.
To call the trip only a trade mission would grossly understate the individual and collective experiences of the delegates. The trip was indeed a trade mission but also much more. For some, it was a 9,000-mile excursion filled with more business opportunities imagined. For other it was an adventure that included the exploration of one of the most beautiful countries on the African continent and an opportunity to walk on the ground that many ancestors cultivated. All in all, it was a timely transformational experience that enhanced each delegate’s life in a deeply personal way. Yes, the trip to South Africa was a trade mission; but it was definitely much more.
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