The environment of South Africa’s townships is severely degraded. Litter swirls in the air, embeds itself in upright structures, and covers ground surfaces. During apartheid, open space in most townships was used as urban waste dumps. Not only did this practice rob residents of potential recreational spaces, it also poisoned ground water as toxins and waste seeped deep into the soil. Industrial plants dumped waste into rivers and belched noxious fumes into the air with impunity.
By transforming abandoned open spaces and unofficial dumps into ecologically healthy and aesthetically pleasing places, Mandla Mentoor is breathing life into South Africa’s urban environmental awareness movement and restoring economic viability and community pride. In Soweto, scarred by decades of political oppression, poverty, and environmental neglect, he has demonstrated what is possible to the township’s disaffected, hopeless residents. Working with youth, he has restored what was formerly a bastion of untold horrors of the apartheid regime. The “new” public space now called the Soweto Mountain of Hope is a picturesque, luscious green area, free of litter and crime. The physical transformation has inspired an equally dramatic social transformation: the space now serves as a hub of community activities and hosts sports events, festivals, and markets. Mentoor’s first successful restoration is central to his plan to focus urban communities across South Africa on similar projects in their own cities. By linking cities in restoration efforts, he is building the infrastructure to support environmental awareness and education efforts throughout South Africa and neighboring countries.