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Promoting Safety in Shebeens

The idea is to promote safety in shebeens (local bars) in South Africa through a series of codes and house rules that communicate appropriate socialising behaviour and disallow unacceptable conduct. [Summary by the Amplify Team]

Photo of Andrew Charman
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Provide a short description of your idea

Our idea is a toolkit to communicate rules through icons. It tackles the problem of violence towards women as well as the participation of women in violence within the context of informal public drinking venues in South Africa. It addresses the problem by developing a series of clearly understandable rules (dos and don’ts) relating to social behaviour within drinking venues as well as on the streets outside and in the surrounding area. The idea is to encourage bar owners to adopt and display the rule icons that they either currently support or seek to adopt to create an environment that is safer and more acceptable to the community. Adoption will be voluntary. We will also work with community leadership to iconize a series of rules (dos and don’ts) which can be used to convey a regulatory responsibility on the bar owners to, for example, reduce noise at a certain time, prevent street fights, stop public urination, and ensure women safe passage home etc. We will promote awareness of the iconized rules through participatory engagement events within the pilot site of Sweet Home Farm, a dedicated Facebook site, posters and street art. Once piloted, we plan to disseminate the idea in other sites, whilst promoting adoption in licenced drinking venues across the country.

Ideas on how to promote awareness of these iconized rules from within the IDEO community are welcome.

The idea is to promote safety in bars through designed codes and house rules that communicate appropriate socialising behaviour and disallow unacceptable conduct. The project seeks to build awareness of the risks to women participating in the leisure economy through public exposure to symbols and codes. It seeks to foster actions within drinking venues that can reduce the risks of harm by tapping into existing, emergent responses through which venues exert control over patrons.

Get a user's perspective on your idea.

Three User Scenarios:
1. Red Card.

One Saturday evening Sasa (18) and her two friends, Lebo (17) and Mandi (20) decide that they want to go ePlekeni, their favourite shebeen in the area. The girls recognise that neither they nor their boyfriends have money and so will need to meet someone to buy drinks. But they have a cunning strategy. At around 10 pm the group of 6 young adults make their way to ePlekeni. The bar is run by Ma Rubi, an individual that does not allow trouble in her venue. On the entrance door there are a number of icons that signify ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’. On entering the shebeen, the girls sit by themselves in a corner where other guys in the bar can see that they are unattached. Three strangers walk over and offer to buy drinks and ‘chill’ with the girls, an offer they welcome. Now the strategy unfolds. “We are actually with our brothers, you know how it is, our parents would not let us come without chaperones, so for their silence we need to keep them happy, you know…”, says Mandi giving a sly smile. The guys keep the drinks coming for the girls and their brothers too. After a while, the guys start touching the girls and one suggests that they take the party to their house. Upon realising that the three strangers are getting very pushy, the ‘brothers’ suddenly re-join their girlfriends. When the strangers realise that they have been tricked into buying drinks for the girls as well as their boyfriends a conflict arises. In the past a fight may have arisen if the 3 strangers had not decided to just ‘let it be’. But Ma Rubi witnessed the altercation and instead she intervenes, pulling out her ‘red card’ to ban Sasa, Lebo, Mandi and their boyfriends from her place. Nicholas, Ma-Ruby’s partner and no-nonsense bouncer, escorts them to the door.

2. Obey the rules.

The scene is eGodini shebeen in Sweet Home Farm. The shebeen is run by Louis. It’s a fairly quiet place, popular with middle aged men and women. On the weekend Louis grills meet and the venue has the feel of restaurant. Above the serving hatch where alcohol is sold are house rules that include, specifically “Do not harass women. No means NO!” Various icons that convey ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ have been spray painted using a stencil in strategic places on the shebeen walls and toilet door. Inside the venue Nora (34) sits with Lindi (28) enjoying a Castle Lager and chatting. Across the room a group of men are sitting watching the two women. When Nora gets up to go to the toilet, one of the men makes cat calls. Later, he comes over to their table irritating them and harassing Nora. Nora and Lindi soon became fed up with this behaviour. They appeal to his friends to talk to him, but he does not listen. Lindi goes to the bar to buy another drink and mentions to Louis that the particular man is pestering them and had spoilt their enjoyment. Louis immediately cames over to the table of men and warns the offender that either he stops harassing the women or he leaves the bar: ‘obey the rules’ he demands.
3. Community regulation.

Siba (30) lives next to a Kwa-Shakes shebeen with her two children, Themba (2) and Sonti (10). Siba has no problems with Zwai the shebeen owner as a neighbour but tensions have recently arisen between them because of the shebeen patrons urinating outside Siba’s house. Zwai was required by the community leaders to build toilets when he opened his business, but has failed to do so. Siba now has to wash the pathway alongside her house to remove the pungent smell and make the area safe and hygienic for children to play as her house has neither yard nor garden space and the children must share the public space with others. Siba talks about the problem of public urination with James, the community leader. James meets with Zwai and reprimands’ him, giving him two weeks’ notice to construct a toilet. In the meantime he assists Siba to paint a sign on the exterior wall of her house warning the shebeen patrons to not urinate on the wall but use the public toilet situated along the lane. The neighbourhood watch is informed of the issue and they agree to monitor the adherence of Zwai’s customers to this rule.

Show us what implementation might look like.

Idea: Safe Shebeens
Submitted by: Andrew Charman and colleagues
Proposed Implementer: Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation and partners
What work has already been done on this idea?
The idea builds on long standing research by the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation on informal drinking venues (or shebeens) (see uploaded pictures of shebeen objects and Zwai's courtyard). Through this research we have come to understand that shebeens as public venues are able to influence the social behaviour within this setting through, for example, the configuration of space, seating arrangements, use of lighting and facilities like pool tables, juke boxes etc. We have also learnt that the shebeen owners are able to mobilise a series of micro-control strategies that mediate the conduct the patrons. Some of the examples we have encountered are using a ‘red card’ policy to ban unruly patrons from the venue, door policies that restrict access to specific genders and age cohorts, the adjustment of music levels and the selection of specific music types to promote a particular social environment. In some venues we have come across house rules posted on walls and icons or pictures that communicate forms of unacceptable social conduct (see photographs uploaded). Despite the current efforts of some shebeen owners, many shebeens have a direct or indirect role in the in transmission of violence within South African township communities. Some shebeens are sites of violence and sexual harassment. Shebeens that operate late into the night, playing loud music, are an annoyance to neighbouring residents. Patrons are at risk of violence on their way to and from the venues, especially at night when muggers target drunken pedestrians. Through working in shebeens, the project can potentially have a far-reaching impact in reducing violence, not only on the target group of women and girls but with respect to men and the broader community as well.

In order to develop a strategy to reduce the ‘harms’ related to shebeens, our organisation has commenced a pilot project in Sweet Home Farm, a slum settlement in Cape Town (see picture uploaded). The idea of this project was to conceptualise and develop innovative actions which could advance safety within shebeens, whilst addressing the externalities of shebeens within the community. It is important that the conceptual development process be grounded in a solid understanding of the problem situation and relevance in terms of community needs, patron needs and shebeen owner capacities and common interests in issues of safety. The people of Sweet Home Farm live in poverty. We believe that development solutions need to be adapted to this context and should, ideally, be low in costs and flexible in the ways that users can adopt them.
To achieve these objectives, we have undertaken two specific processes of knowledge generation. First, we have sub-selected 3 cohort groups from a random sample of 155 informants to partake in a participatory learning process. We have uploaded a sample of photographs of the research process. The three groups comprise a group of young men (drinkers and non-drinkers), a group of young women (drinkers and non-drinkers) and a mixed gender group of adults (drinkers and non-drinkers). The participatory process entailed a group mapping exercise in which each person in the two respective groups of drinkers and non-drinkers added information to an aerial map of the settlement. Through this process were able to identify the particular places and spaces in which the individual participants socialise and trace the intersecting pathways that connect people’s lives. In each group we learnt about safe and unsafe spaces / places and safe and unsafe social actions in various contexts, including violence directed towards women and women participation in violence in shebeens. The three scenarios draw on these insights. Second, we undertook detailed interviews with 23 shebeen owners, recording data on the nature of the business including an examination of the available facilities, the kinds of patrons that frequent their venues and particular actions through which they have sought to manage drinking sociability within their venue and control conflict. A poster of the identified safety control measures has been uploaded. The next phase in this component of the research will entail a series of participatory workshops with a sub-set of the shebeen owners (10-12) to identify ways in which safety can be enhanced in their venues and to provide them with an opportunity to reflect on adopting new house rules or actions to enhance their efforts to promote safe venues.

At the conclusion of this phase of research, we will be ready to begin the process of implementing our idea. The most significant next steps are: i) the formulation and design of a basket of house rules, ii) an exhibition event to publicise the project and link the participants to external stakeholders / actors, iii) a pilot to test the appropriateness and effectiveness of the idea, iv) revision and refinement of the idea on the basis of impact assessment and engagement the IDEO community, v) the promotion of the idea outside the pilot site and vi) the allignment of the idea with national gender safety and harm reduction programmes.

Funding has been secured for implementation of the idea on a small scale. The indicate costs to upscale the scope and reach of the project are $100,000. This will ensure that effectiveness of the idea can be thoroughly tested, refined and / or adapated for localised adoption. IDEO funding will help to ensure that the idea develops political traction. This is important to ensure that the idea of self-regulation, individual action and community oversight become recognised as not only more effective strategies to reduce bar / alcohol related harms, but are rooted in participatory democracy and people empowerment. IDEO funding can enable the project idea to be exposed and potentially replicated in government and civil society programmes and actions.
Future activities
Future activities are set-out in the attached workplan.
Shebeens or ‘speakeasies’ are informal, unlicenced and therefore illegal venues which sell alcohol and provide a space for recreation and socialisation. There are approximately 250,000 shebeens throughout South Africa, mainly situated in poor communities in urban settlements. Shebeens are an important public space in the township environment, providing a meeting place away from the spatially restricted confines of home life where people can gather to socialise and drink liquor. We have learnt, through substantial research on this topic, that each shebeen venue caters to specific demographic sections of the population using micro-control strategies, such as the genre of music played, to select and unselect specific groups and influence the way people interact in the shebeen environment. The arrangement of seating, to provide a further example, provides a subtle strategy through which peoples socialising behaviour can be moderated. Whilst enhancing sociability for township residents, shebeens can increase insecurity and harms at both the individual and neighbourhood level, with the latter affected by noise, public urination, street brawls and muggings. Women who participate in the township night-life leisure economy are vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse in their journey to the shebeen and within the venue itself as drinkers or mere participants. In addition, most shebeen venues do not provide separate toilets for the sanitation needs of women who, in some cases, must share the rudimentary urinal structures that serve the male clients.

The idea builds on the recognition that micro-control strategies are used to regulate the shebeen environment. We have explored some of these dynamics through our virtual exhibition on the shebeens of Sweet Home Farm ( One such strategy is the formulation of house rules. A shebeener in the slum settlement of Sweet Home Farm included in his list of house rules a warning to male patrons that they would be expelled from the venue if they hit women or engaged in violent conduct. Our idea is to make organic rules that encourage non-violent and respectful behaviour, such as the one above, better known to shebeen patrons and more widely adopted among shebeen owners. To do this we are working with both shebeens and community members in the settlement of Sweet Home Farm, an informal slum settlement in Cape Town, to understand the way existing micro-strategies are used and to identify the safety needs of shebeen patrons (men and women) and the needs of the neighbourhood residents who are affected by shebeen patrons. Building upon the idea of house rules, the project will translate these rules into simple visual messages through, for example, the use of easily identifiable signs. These signs will then be replicated and displayed both within shebeens and public space to create a new language of safety that is commonly understandable and can enhance self-selection amongst both patron and shebeen owners. The intervention can empower women and men to avoid venues that do not acknowledge their safety concerns, whilst encouraging shebeen owners to better recognise the needs and vulnerabilities of female patrons.  

Explain your idea in one sentence.

The idea is to promote safety in shebeens through designed codes and house rules that communicate appropriate and acceptable social behaviour and encourage conduct which could enhance safety and discourage harm to women.

What is the need you are trying to solve?

Women are increasingly active participants in the night-time leisure economy. The trend of women leisure participation that is evident amongst (young) women from affluent classes in the city centres of the global north is mirrored by women in the poor urban communities in Africa. In South Africa, the drinking and socialising of women in public venues in the townships is commonly seen and largely sanctioned within the community. Female patronage of drinking venues has begun to change the orientation of these venues themselves and has certainly impacted on the way the liquor industry markets its products. Whilst participation in the township night-life has afforded women new freedoms and provided new pleasures and excitement, it has also heightened their exposure to risks of sexual harassment, violence, indignity and the harm from drinking itself including foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The project seeks to build awareness of these risks through public exposure to symbols and codes and it also seeks to foster actions within drinking venues that can reduce the risks of harm by tapping into existing, emergent, responses through which venues exert control over their patrons. We seek to amplify awareness of the safety risks to men and women within drinking venues as well as sensitising the patrons of the leisure economy to the harms that they may impose on the surrounding community.

Who will benefit from this idea and how would you monitor its success?

The beneficiaries are both men and women. We are specifically targeting the participants of the night-time leisure economy because it is at night and amongst people who have been drinking / socialising that risks of harm are greatest. Women face particular risks from sexual harassment at drinking venues as well as physical and sexual assault on their homeward journey. Within venues there are often inadequate sanitation facilities per se, whilst in the venues in the context of the current project site, women typically have to share the same space and toilet facilities with men which exposes them to indignity and abuse. We also intend for the community to benefit through raising awareness of the impact of venues (through noise which disturbs neighbours for example) amongst shebeen owners on the neighbourhood and sensitising the patrons to their impact on the community through unsafe and inconsiderate behaviour.

In the pilot site, Sweet Home Farm, we will monitor the transference of the idea to other venues to measure its adoption. The effectiveness of the idea (in terms of the objective of reducing insecurity) will need to be assessed through surveys, targeting three groups: shebeen owners, venue patrons, and neighbourhood members. We will need to measure the extent to which the patrons of the leisure economy have understood and internalised the messages and how their behaviour has changed. Where we can identify behaviour change we will then need to understand how this modified behaviour has impacted or not impacted on the security risks that women confront. We will monitor the adoption of the design codes and other outcomes in the eight sites and its replication in venues elsewhere through site visits, activities on a dedicated facebook page, and media reports.

Who would be best equipped to implement this idea in the real world? You? Your organisation? Another organisation or entity?

The lead organisation in this initiative is the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation (SLF). We have significant working experience of the social and economy dynamics of shebeens and the leisure economy in Sweet Home Farm, the initial pilot site. We have explored some of the dynamics of micro-control strategies through our virtual exhibition on the shebeens of Sweet Home Farm ( and published research.

SLF has conducted research 7 other townships, comprising a population of 325,000 people in which our research identified 2400 liquor traders. We have engaged with the owners of 1251 venues. The project could reach an estimatedtarget audience of 40,000-50,000 people, in its roll-out phase, in the eight localities. In project implementation, we are collaborating with other organisations, notably the SafetyLab which seeks to develop concepts that can be widely replicated through government programmes and UrbanWorks Architecture and Urbanism.

Where should this idea be implemented?

Informal drinking venues, bar and taverns as well as adjacent communities.

How might you prototype this idea and test some of the assumptions behind it?

A pilot phase of the project is being implemented in Sweet Home Farm. There are 70 shebeens in this small settlement. We are working with a sub-set of 20 shebeen owners who comprise a core group that will develop the conceptual ideas on which the design phase will built. Pilot interventions will be trialled in these venues. Once the concepts and designs are refined, the project will commence a process of disseminating the ideas within the eight townships in which we have undertaken research and engagement activities

What might a day in the life of a community member interacting with your idea look like?

Our idea intends to benefit women participants of night-time leisure activities, especially the patrons of public drinking spaces. Women face heightened risks of sexual abuse and violence in these venues, especially at night and over the weekend period. We aim that our idea will strengthen self-regulatory measures in venues to reduce these risks. We also aim to enable women to support those venues that explicitly endorse ‘house rules’ which act against gender violence and abuse.

Evaluation results

4 evaluations so far

1. Does this idea have the potential to impact the lives of low-income women and girls living in urban areas?

Yes, the idea clearly targets low-income women and girls living in urban areas. - 100%

The idea targets women and girls but isn’t necessarily focused on those living in low-income urban areas. - 0%

The idea targets people living in low-income urban areas but doesn’t seem to benefit women and girls specifically. - 0%

2. Does this idea describe a set of next steps and a timeline to accomplish them?

The idea clearly outlines next steps, the resources and team needed to execute them and a timeline to accomplish this. - 75%

The idea gives a broad explanation of what it hopes to accomplish but there is no clear timeline or activities to reach its desired goal. - 25%

The idea has not clearly articulated what the next steps are. - 0%

3. How feasible would it be to implement a pilot of this idea in the next 12-18 months?

Very feasible – the next steps described in the contribution seem achievable in this time period. - 100%

A pilot appears feasible but more work needs to be done to figure out how it would be executed. - 0%

The idea is not ready to be piloted yet – the concept needs several more months of user feedback and prototyping to be ready for a pilot. - 0%

4. Does this idea bring a new and fresh approach to the city or region in which it’s set?

Yes, this idea appears to be new and innovative! I’m not aware of other ideas in this city or region that address this need using a similar approach. - 100%

There are other initiatives doing similar work in this area – but this idea targets a new group or has an updated approach. - 0%

I can think of many initiatives addressing the same need using a similar approach in the same region. - 0%

5. How scalable is this idea across regions and cultures?

This is an idea that could help women and girls in many different cities. I can see it being implemented across multiple regions and cultures. - 25%

Maybe but I’d imagine it would need very significant changes. - 50%

The idea is really only suited for one specific region / population. - 25%

6. Overall, how do you feel about this concept?

I love this idea! - 100%

I liked it but preferred others. - 0%

It didn't get me so excited. - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Aaryaman

This is a great idea and well thought out. It reminds of how Mayor of Bogota, Antanas Mockus used thumbs up/thumbs down to have encourage citizens to participate encourage driving safely from taxi drivers. It allowed the community to participate in its safety as anyone could hand out a thumbs up or thumbs down to anyone.

Photo of Bathulile

Hi Aaryaman. I have read the pieces on Mockus and his kind of thinking is perhaps what is needed. He seems to have simple solutions for very complex issues. I believe that in this project we will achieve a change in some of the community members' mindsets with regards to safety and that safety will be seen as everyone's responsibility. Using simple objects that everyone is familiar with to communicate transcends language barriers and is inclusive of those who are illiterate (a major problem in my country too). Thank you for sharing this. We appreciate your input.

Photo of Aaryaman

Good luck! I wish you all the best.

Photo of Bathulile

Aaryaman we thank you.

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