What is your name and where do you live?

Marthe Muller. I live two blocks from the sea between Sea Point and Bantry Bay in ward 54 of Cape Town, South Africa, an administrative area that includes Robben Island, where South Africa’s inspirational President Nelson Mandela was sadly incarcerated for too many years…

What is your passion?

Governance for soul growth, or designing civilizational tools to unleash the sacred potential of every individual on earth.

Which is your favorite quote?

“In the absence of good structures, even good people behave badly.”

Morel Fourman, CEO Gaiasoft.

What is your role in the community now?

I am a member of the ward committee of ward 54, and I have an office in the local government association based on a partnership with SALGA between the women’s organisation I work for to support the SALGA Women’s Commission.

I also started a small dialogue circle with other community members to discuss issues related to vulnerable members of the community.

What previous experience do you have of working in the community?

I have worked for 15 years with South African Women in Dialogue, and through contacts I made at SAWID I worked in two community organisations in Langa and Khayelitsha between 2004 and 2006, helping establish an NGO, creating marketing materials, registering Early Childhood Development Centers and trying to negotiate the bureaucratic obstacles to community agency.

9 provincial coordinators and other stakeholders of SAWID
9 provincial coordinators and other stakeholders of SAWID

Since I am the COO of a women’s organisation that represents around 13 000 women who have attended SAWID events over 15 years, I feel compelled to share the insights of the women whose voices SAWID has gathered over all these years.

What are the main issues your community is dealing with?

South African women have articulated priorities that include poverty eradication, early childhood development, a reduction in violence against women, and civil society coordination, coupled with income generation in all these above areas. Women have also emphasised that the family must be seen as the basic unit of development, and that all development must be preceded by both dialogue and healing methodologies.

 Embrace Dignity, where I am a trustee
Embrace Dignity, where I am a trustee

SAWID has been working on a poverty eradication approach using youth trained as family development workers, and paying them salaries to enter identified indigent families. This work has been made easier using a new tool called the Poverty Stoplight, which allows the needs of individual families to be defined through family self-diagnosis along 50 indicators, and geo-mapped to understand the diverse needs of families in a geographic areas. The Poverty Stoplight was chosen by the UN as one of 11 strategies for the implementation of the SDGs in September 2017.

Candle ceremony at the first SAWID dialogue in 2003 where the candle was symbolically passed between different generations
Candle ceremony at the first SAWID dialogue in 2003 where the candle was symbolically passed between different generations

Three issues that have emerged strongly in the ward where I live is the plight of the homeless, after-care centres for learners, and social and affordable housing. The area I live in has become a high value area, with rampant development, little regard for the quality of life of inhabitants, and stark income inequalities, with 98% of the local high school consisting of learners who do not live in the area, but need to travel in daily from the townships created by the spatial inequality left by our divisive legacy of apartheid.

Do you think people have a strong collective voice?

No. Neither in the larger processes in the country nor at ward level. Women’s voices are not adequately represented in decision making structures, and their wisdom is not reflected in governance structures.

Although there is a ward committee of 10 people in the ward where I live, where the around 50 organisations currently registered on the ward list can seek to be represented, the diversity of needs and organisations are not represented, and the more than 80% of South Africans that were previously disadvantaged, remain disadvantaged… Women’s voices also remain the most marginalised.

How do decisions currently get made?

At ward level, through the ward committee, and through the election process, which determines the ward councillors.

How would you like to see democracy improved?

At a national level, the electoral system needs to be changed, to allow people to directly nominate their leaders, rather than the system where political parties nominate candidates on a list.

At a ward level, through a continuous awareness of the real and articulated needs of all who live in and move through the neighbourhood. Wards continue to reflect old apartheid spatial inequalities…

Since some of the highest value real estate in South Africa falls into the ward I live (Clifton, Fresnaye, Camps Bay, Bakoven), and rising rental prices mean that fewer people can afford to live here, many people live in very unsatisfactory conditions to be close to their employment.

What role do you think VocalEyes can play in helping to make this happen?

By providing a tool that allows all of us to become aware of the real needs of all the diverse groups, including school-age learners and aged pensioners, who live in our neighbourhood, and by providing a structure to begin engaging in participatory democracy. One would also need to show clearly where all the resources in government, civil society and the private sector is, and find a way to link the data provided to actual governance systems and budgets.

How do you hope to raise awareness and engage people in participatory democracy?

By writing articles, arranging dialogues, engaging local and provincial government officials and by partnering with other development practitioners to design a workable model and hopefully pilot it in ward 54, aligned to Mr. Mandela’s dream of a “Reconstruction And Development Plan of the Soul.”

What is the potential for participatory democracy is going in general, locally, nationally, globally?

It is the only way forward. Our planet is on the edge of civilizational collapse because our political, economic and societal structures do not honour our spiritual realities and the need to ensure the soul-growth of every individual. Such a community engagement/participatory democracy project will however take enormous amounts of buy-in and consensus building between various stakeholders…

Can you see us getting there and how long do you think it will take?

Absolutely. We are already part of “The Great Turning”, but I think the real changes towards human sustainability we are envisaging can take up to 100 – 150 years… Structures like VocalEyes is absolutely essential, but there are a few additional steps required, namely:

  1. Healing and reconciliation of individuals and societies
  2. Tools for self-development
  3. Tools for gender reconciliation and conflict resolution between people, communities, organisations and nations
  4. Family sustainability, using family development workers, and family clinics, to teach the tools of engaged parenting, child-rearing and social sustainability
  5. Implementation of the Family Stoplight Tool, (accepted by the UN in September 2017 as one of 11 strategies for the implementation of the SDG’s) to measure family well-being over 50 indicators of self-diagnosis, and geo-map the outcome for every ward or geographic area.
  6. Then one will need to find a way to link both the indicators of family well-being and the data gathered by VocalEyes on community wellbeing directly to budgets and resources, reconfiguring the processes of governments, and available policies and laws, to prioritise the wellbeing of individuals, families and communities.

Wow, you’ve done so much thinking about this. Can you recommend 3 books for us to read?

  • Social Sustainability for Community Builders by Daniel Raphael.
  • Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.
  • 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Turning Points in Ancient History) by Eric H. Cline.

And what’s your favourite film?

So many. Cinema Paradiso is one, As it is in Heaven, all the films of Ingmar Bergman, and a little known 1977 film by Charles Burnett, then a 33-year-old graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, who made Killer of Sheep, as his thesis film. It depicts African American life as seen by a sensitive man who works in a slaughterhouse to support his family.

What book(s) are you reading at the moment?

Re-reading The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge
I am also reading a biography of Prince Phillip as companion to the Netflix Television series The Crown, which interests me as I consider the Queen of England to be probably the most experienced “planetary manager” on the planet, and the history of the man who has been her consort for more than 70 years explains some of the complexities and gender dynamics in their relationship.
The History of Childhood by Lloyd deMause. I worked in New York with the late Dr. Casper Schmidt, who worked with deMause at the New York Psychohistorical Society.

If you were offered a free ticket, would you go to Mars?

Absolutely not. As a 13th generation Afrikaner, I feel an enormous responsibility for correcting the conditions we have created on our own planet. I only hope we have the time. How will we be able to create a sustainable civilization on Mars when we cannot get it right on this planet?

Thank you, any last thoughts you’d like to share?

I see the VocalEyes tool, now being used in Swansea, as the logical next step to help align family and community needs to available resources in civil society, government and the private sector, and hope to find the buy-in and resources to pilot such an approach in Ward 54 of the City of Cape Town, where I live.

As the content of an African Women’s Agenda is closely aligned to Nelson Mandela’s dream of a Reconstruction and Development (RDP) of the Soul, and Ward 54 also includes Robben Island, where Mandela spent so many years in incarceration, I am interested in exploring how to create dialogues in communities to explore tools to ensure that the cradle to grave needs of every member in a geographic area are equally met.

To pilot a community engagement approach that combines small dialogue circles, a family-based poverty eradication tool, awareness of cradle to grave community needs, and the ability to link community priorities directly to sustainable businesses through a Master’s Degree program at a local university seems to me to be a true win-win situation. Add to this a tool that can link community needs and priorities to participative budgeting, and we have a tool that can begin to lead us to the quality of life, growth and equality that are the minimum values of social sustainability.

Interview with Marthe Muller, Cape Town, South Africa