Ubuntu Academy: the report


Thursday night, 05.30am. By bus we enter Cape Town. A true metropolis: skyscrapers, taxis everywhere and a city-center that never sleeps. Cape Town, the city of Table Mountain, Robben Island and the city where the Dutch national team reached the World Cup final in 2010 (2-3, with that crazy goal from Van Bronkhorst). But above all, Cape Town is the city of Ubuntu Academy, the twelfth project on our route.



Our project in Cape Town has Dutch roots! At the cradle of the Academy in Cape Town was the Ubuntu Talent Organisation (UTO), based in Amsterdam. This organization has been around since 2006, founded by Marieke de Lange and Renske Hofman. UTO focuses on increasing self-confidence, encouraging leadership and in that way giving underprivileged youth a chance with projects in different parts of the world. In time, their intent has been increasingly extended towards performing arts; dance, music, theater and film. In 2012, UTO founded the Ubuntu Academy in Cape Town. A school for the performing arts, leadership and entrepreneurship. A place where young people get an opportunity and a framework to be empowered and to put their talents to work. The aim of UTO is to ultimately establish such academies throughout the world. The Ubuntu Academy Cape Town is the project we may work with the coming days.


Ubuntu Academy Cape Town is a program for young people between 16 and 28 years old from the townships of Mitchell's Plain, Mfuleni and Blikkiesdorp. Within the program, they learn to deal with their talent, to develop this talent and to exploit this talent for themselves and their livelihoods. This sounds simple, but it was not in practice. The Academy was founded in Cape Town in 2012. Pretty soon a team was built around it. Already in March 2013 the academy commenced; 55 students, a lot of coaches and trainers to guide them all and a ambitious, almost bombastic vision. Yet very little structure and guidance was put into the program, its finances and future. To be able to work towards something set, there was a showcase organized in early July of that year. That period in time was very representative for the situation of the Ubuntu Academy: the showcase hit it big, people were very impressed and the academy established its name. Students made steps, but moments later the end appeared to be near; the money turned out to be finished...

Until the end of the pilot in April 2015, a number of projects were started from within the Academy and a lot of events found their way to the team. In this way Ubuntu could always offer the students something to work towards. Eventually it was decided to end the pilot with a five-day 'graduation camp', where students could put in everything they had for one, final time. In the meantime, the accompanying team has been reduced to almost nothing. Due to personal reasons or due to lack of security given by the Academy, Lilian (Schulze, see our interview with her on the interview page) is currently Ubuntu's 'last man standing'.


In April this year, the two-year pilot came to an end. At that time, a mentoring program was started, where each student got a mentor who supports and assists them, even now the Academy has officially ended. On Saturday we organize a comeback-day with Ubuntu, to give the students a opportunity to see each other again and where possible meet with their mentors. We go hiking on Lionshead (a mountain on the outskirts of the city) for the sake of team building and we finish the day with a traditional South African braai and jam session at the home of one of the mentors. At the beginning the students are still somewhat shy towards their new Dutch guests, but during the hike they loosen up very fast. When they hear that we are going to braai for them, we quickly become friends and during the jam session they completely turn the party up. The students stand in line to make music and entertain. When these guys and girls can entertain, they' re really in their element. There is dancing, rapping and singing, all together. We conclude there's an incredible amount of talent after this evening with the students. The passion and musicality that the students show us is overwhelming. For many of these young people the Academy and their art is all they really go for, or at least the most important thing, we are told. That of course creates additional pressure on the Ubuntu Academy. For what is the alternative?


On Monday we join some of the students to an event at which they will perform. The event is organized by Novalis Ubuntu Institute, the organization Ubuntu Academy is currently legally a part of. Where today's event is focused on "Intergenerational Dialogs" the distance between the conference participants and students seems greater than ever. Among all complicated and pompous speeches and discussions the small showcase by the Ubuntu academy comes as a relief, as much for us as for the students themselves.

After the break, the students are more actively involved in the discussions. Another relief. Students, young as they are, secretly know very well what they want and what role the older generation can play in this. That role is actually very simple. Give us confidence, give us the opportunities and support where necessary, and we will get there and pay you back. And that is exactly what the Ubuntu Academy does! Of course, it often lacked the necessary structure. Coordination with UTO Amsterdam has not always been perfect, proving projects not to be realistic, budgets not sufficient and targets in need for revision. Despite all this, however, a lot of work has been done in three years and perhaps even more importantly, there are a lot of lessons learned.


The braai on Saturday ultimately makes a wonderful metaphor for the history of Ubuntu Academy Cape Town. There's a lot of energy, everyone does something, everyone has fun, but it's a great (cozy) chaos. This past week, we spoke to a lot of people who are closely involved with the Ubuntu Academy. From them we always hear the same story: the last two years were a big trial and error period. It is during this pilot, however, that a lot of incredibly valuable things originated. There was so much energy, friendships for life started within the academy. A fortune of social capital. Students additionally have enjoyed valuable education and the Academy has built an immense network. "We're actually at a crossroads," says George, the chairman of the academy. "I am convinced that over the past two years, during the pilot all the resources and accumulated knowledge was collected to run a successful Ubuntu Academy here in Cape Town in the future. However, the puzzle pieces have to fall into each other at a given time. Whether that will happen, time will tell. "


So what is that plan for the future? At this time the team is working very hard on a blueprint in which all the good that the Academy has produced during the pilot will be combined with the lessons learned. This work must be the basis for the Ubuntu Academy Capetown 2.0. This should be an institution that is going to work in a more sustainable way. With more, especially financial independence of UTO Amsterdam. With full-time students and with a much shorter but more intensive curriculum, which focuses even more on leadership and entrepreneurship. When this base is there, you can start building a new team, find a new location and acquire new funds. Slowly this time, from a solid base.


What we have learned from the Ubuntu Academy is that talent should not be underestimated. The student and his talent is not just something that should be protected and developed, but also something that has a certain value to it. Do not be afraid to demand a lot of your students. For their own Ubuntu Academy to be durable and sustainable in the future, it must be possible to get something extra from them.. Education should be a two-way street. And these students can handle this, please do not underestimate them. We will never do that again after our time in Cape Town. In2Afrika has great confidence in the future of Ubuntu Academy. Also we were lit by the energy that surrounds the project. The pieces should now slowly start falling into place.