Cape Town’s bid story

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Mothers Unite: Urban acupuncture for an urban age

Resourceful citizens who bring creative solutions to the challenges facing today’s city dwellers were recognised at an award ceremony involving the eight finalists of the Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award in Cape Town’s Civic Centre on 19 April 2012.

Speaking at the ceremony, CEO of Deutsche Bank Dr Josef Ackermann honoured local entrants: “I congratulate you all for this impressive demonstration of citizens who are not waiting for help but use their own creativity to overcome the problems of their daily lives. I hope that the projects awarded today will serve as an encouragement not only in Cape Town, but all over South Africa. These projects are South African ambassadors of good ideas and better solutions, not just for Cape Town but for all cities in the world. They are ambassadors of hope.”

Cape Town is the fifth city – after Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Istanbul and Mexico City – to host the Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award. An all-time high of 254 local applications were received, of which only eight could be shortlisted, and only one awarded the prize of R750 000. Jury chair Professor Edgar Pieterse, director at the African Centre for Cities, hinted at the difficulties of the “exhausting but absolutely exhilirating” decision process with which the local and international jury were faced.

Who ultimately won the honour? A finalist described by jury member Malika Ndlovu as “the light in Lavender Hill”: Mothers Unite. (Pictured above: the Mothers Unite vegetable garden, below: a playing area at Mothers Unite)

The light in Lavender Hill

Mothers Unite – founded in 2007 in a mother’s home – is a kind of safe haven in Lavender Hill. Three afternoons a week, in an infrastructure village in the grounds of the city’s Seawinds Multipurpose Centre, 120 children between the ages of 3 and 15 are exposed to storytelling, computer literacy, food garden training, art therapy, sports and play – as an alternative to the gangsterism, drugs and violence they’re witness to on the streets. Built with donated shipping containers, the village is made up of a library, kitchen, office, sheltered area, playground and food garden. The Mothers Unite project addresses the family unit and encourages family participation and a shared commitment to community development, providing a support base for the family and a safe place for children to play, explore and develop.

What do Mothers Unite intend doing with the R750 000? They plan to obtain further educational resources for after-school programmes, revamp the playground, add to their toy and book libraries and purchase better kitchen equipment and nutritional ingredients for the children’s meals. They would like to buy a vehicle to overcome their biggest operational obstacle and be able to offer a small stipend to volunteers who have worked tirelessly. Prize money will also allow the organisation to purchase stationery and equipment for Emergency First Aid Response courses, and contribute to 160 computer literacy courses and 80 home garden start-ups to broaden their work in Lavender Hill.

Urban acupuncture for an urban age

In his press statement on the announcement of the eight finalists, Professor Edgar Pieterse spoke about the kind of sustainable intervention that Mothers Unite represents: “Durable urban change is often about carefully targeted micro interventions that can change the energies and dynamics of a surrounding neighbourhood. When one engages with the physical manifestations that the tenacity, blood, sweat, and tears of the protagonists of Mothers Unite and Masiphumelele Library [another of the eight finalists, the entrance of which is pictured above] have created, the power of urban acupuncture is apparent. These projects serve as reminders that through vision, commitment over the long haul, and principle-based partnerships, just about any problem can be confronted and addressed.”

Malika Ndlovu was similarly encouraged: “Mothers Unite is not only an outstanding example of a professional community-driven childcare and education initiative, it is a far greater vision of a bottom-up social and environmental transformation strategy already unfolding. In the face of multiple challenges and literally arid soil, the resilient women behind this work are reshaping their physical context and social environment, claiming their right to municipal resources, to safety and dignity for their community – a Cape Town community, like many others, stereotypically seen as violent and impoverished. Clearly Mothers Unite sees through different eyes and is driven by a commitment to a different future for Lavender Hill and its children. We honour their compassionate, insightful and innovative approaches to the daily obstacles they face. May their example and the DBUAA spotlight they now stand in, inform and inspire others working in similar conditions as well as open the way for increased collaboration with partners for the benefit of all involved.”

Image: Children at the Rocklands Urban Abundance Centre concentrate during a lesson

Where to next? The legacy of Urban Age

R750 000 is a wonderful windfall for Mothers Unite, but what of the other seven finalists and the 253 applicants? The Cape Town jury unanimously recommended the establishment of an offshoot legacy project to offer structured information, knowledge and communications support to all 254 projects that entered the 2012 award – for which Deutsche Bank South Africa and Deutsche Bank’s Alfred Herrhausen Society then offered the seed funding.

To be hosted by the African Centre for Cities, Cape Town Partnership and the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre, the Deutsche Bank Urban Age Legacy Project aims to ensure that the city as a whole benefits from all the exciting initiatives and ideas that came to light during the award process. It will operate under two main themes:

  • Community place-making and identity: Initiatives that use space to achieve an improved economic, social and physical environment
  • Local development partnerships: Initiatives that connect different projects with the public authorities to achieve greater impact

Inspired by Mothers Unite? Connect with these seven amabassadors of hope for yourself:


Image: A popular pedestrian walk way linked to the VPUU project