How Franziska Blöchliger inspired the creation of Thula Baba Project.

The horrific brutal murder of the young Franziska Blöchliger in Tokai Forest in March of 2016 started my pilgrimage against violent crime. It would be 2 years of research and soul searching before Thula Baba Project was registered in March 2018.

“I choked her until she was unconscious. After that, I dragged her through the fynbos and raped her. While I was raping her, I pressed her head against the ground and suffocated her, which possibly lead to her death.”

Statement from one of the 4 accused

A journey that started with a coffee meeting with Don Pinnock, the esteemed criminologist and the reading and re reading of his book “Gang Town”.  This book gave me great background into the creation of gangs in Cape Town and how and why young people of the Cape Flats are drawn into it. Don advised that my energy was better focussed at preventing children from joining gangs. He also introduced me to the theory that underpins much of the Thula Baba Project work. When pregnant women are in a toxic environment their babies are born with an aggressive predisposition, a kind of built in coping mechanism. It is critically important that these babies are made to feel loved and safe through effective attachment and bonding. 

Gang Town offers a lucid, balanced account of the Cape’s gang structures, and what can potentially be done about it. It makes sense.

Book review in local newspaper

I met and had a long discussion with Lucille Meyer CEO of the Chrysalis Academy where I learnt the value of programmes and peer based support structures followed by many long discussions with the late Father Terry Wilke who was at the time the priest at Bishops. He shared his insight into troubled youngsters.

I spent hours in prayer and walking pilgrimages from Worth Abbey to Canterbury Cathedral in England and from St Michael’s and All Angels to St Georges Cathedral in Cape Town with the spiritual guidance of the late Canon Rowan Smith, who encouraged my pilgrimage of life.

“Lord Jesus Christ, your birth sparked off the massacre of the innocents in Bethlehem; be with all those who are caught up in the cross-fire when Gang Wars take place in our townships. Protect and guard the innocent and convert and constrain the perpetrators; for your names’ sake.”

Canon Rowan Smith

It was during the pilgrimage in England in 2016 that I was introduced to the idea of the Finnish Baby Box. A box filled with baby necessities given to every new mom in Finland. It is based on a cultural tradition of gifting a box for baby to sleep in. Since being introduced in the 1950’s the infant mortality rate in Finland dropped from one of the highest in Europe to now the lowest in the world. Often attributed to the baby sleeping safely in the box, however my research led me to more recent studies that showed that it was the fact that moms had to register their pregnancies before the 4th month and were then plugged into the very informative prenatal care programmes.

The Baby Box is filled with important supplies and serves as a bed for the newborn.

I had also met Roseanne Turner who was running the organisation “Girls of Hanover Park Matter” during my research. Many of the teenage girls she was working with were also mothers. The Cape Town walking pilgrimages (one in 2017 and one in 2018) were with these young women and their babies. Walking through these once healthy communities with these brave young women knowing that it was the destruction of these societies that triggered the eventual toxic environments, they now lived in was sobering and humbling and so very disturbing.

I discovered Thula Baba Box during my research into the Finnish Boxes. It was a research project from Stellenbosch University. It had been dormant for a year but had a great Facebook presence. I realised that by combining my professional experience as a programme manager, my training as a life coach and the consequential understanding of personal transformational change and the management of change in systems, I could revitalise this project and make a difference in the communities I am so concerned about. I co-opted my friend Trixy Lochner, a life coach who has experience in product development and my now late partner Chris Downie, a seasoned bank manager to launch the Thula Baba Project as an NPO based in the southern suburbs of Cape Town servicing the mothers and babies in the Cape Flats. 

Our first prenatal class graduation with The Zoe Project

Thula Baba Project is focussed on strengthening mothering skills. It is specifically aimed at increasing mother to child bonding and attachment and also teaching mothers how to stimulate their baby’s natural curiosity toward improved development and therefore increasing school readiness. The key objective being that if children feel loved, they will not only be less likely to search for a sense of belonging in gangs, but they will also have the courage to learn more without fear of failure. Children who are ready for school when they enter the classroom have more chance of academic success and are less likely to drop out and find themselves unemployable.

Since our start we have successfully incentivised 741 mothers of the Cape Flats to attending pre-natal and child care classes. During Covid we pivoted our approach to crisis relief support and since May 2020 we have assisted nearly 7000 babies born in the Cape Flats with basic clothing and toiletry needs. 

All this has been achieved by a small enthusiastic team, from my house in Tokai and with the amazing support from your – our Thula Baba family and your amazing support in the form of donated goods and financial contributions.