Lead: Dr Andrew Charman
Project manager: Rory Liedeman
Sweet Home Farm is an informal settlement on the margins of Phillipi township and home to approximately 9000 residents. Virtually all community members live in small shacks and the settlement lacks proper roads, electricity access, plumbing and designated public space for recreation. Despite this deficit of basic infrastructure, Sweet Home Farm nonetheless houses approximately 111 informal shebeens within a vicinity of just 22 hectares.
From its inception, the Safe Shebeens project sought to make use of an array of research methods and to engage with diverse community stakeholders – including community members at large (both drinkers and non-drinkers), community leaders and shebeen owners.
As a starting point, in late March, SLF began to engage with 23 shebeen owners (‘shebeeners’) to investigate their roles in the context of security inside and around their venues. This was done through a variety of techniques – including formal interviews, sketching, photography, GPS mapping and survey questionnaires. The goal was to understand what shebeen owners already do to maintain safety and order, in order to identify best practices and potential points of intervention.
As the project developed, general community members were brought into the research discussions through workshops held at the SLF office. Using a variety of highly participatory activities, we wanted to learn how community members understand and work to maintain safety within their respective environments, and particularly how drinkers and non-drinkers differ in their experiences of “safe” and “unsafe” spaces. One major outcome of these workshops included detailed maps of the places where community members feel most and least safe. Interestingly, those who claimed to drink regularly tended to feel safer in their surroundings as a result of their social networks in contrast to those who chose to abstain from drinking.
Through continued dialogue with shebeeners, in combination with feedback received during the OpenIDEO challenge, a clear set of appropriate and inappropriate social behaviours began to emerge. Working in collaboration with several designers, the SLF research team began to develop a “Safety Toolkit” to distribute to all shebeen owners participating in the project. Eventually, a system of rules and their associated vocabularies began to develop around the behaviours that were seen as acceptable and unacceptable within shebeens. For each ‘rule,’ a corresponding symbol was designed to represent an intended message. In all, a system of more than 25 symbols was developed.
The Exhibition – handing over the project
After almost eight months of research, engagement, design and discussions, SLF and sixteen shebeen owners from Sweet Home Farm hosted an exhibition to present their finished work on October 24th, 2014. The event was held in the Sweet Home Farm community and was attended by policy makers and liquor regulators, civil society organisations, other NGO workers, academics, representatives from several liquor manufacturers, students and members of the Sweet Home Farm community. The agenda for the afternoon included a tour of three different shebeens where different portions of the project were displayed, followed by the presentation of certificates to shebeen owners and networking over simple tea and biscuits.
There were several goals of this exhibition. First, SLF believed that there is value in demonstrating not only the tangible outcomes of the research and engagement process, but also in articulating the challenges and key learnings of the action research process itself; including our use of non-traditional forms of data collection and analysis. Secondly, SLF hoped to challenge the mainstream political discourse of the Western Cape ruling DA government, which tends to portray shebeens as epicentres of township violence. Instead, we sought to recast shebeens as lively, multifaceted spaces that are not only of economic importance for many marginalized settlements, but also as key gathering spaces for recreation and community building although recognizing their contradictory position within communities. Finally, by hosting the exhibition within the community of Sweet Home Farm, we wanted to bring outsiders’ attention to the poverty and lack of basic infrastructure that is rampant within the settlement. Indeed, the vast majority of the visitors had never heard of the community, let alone set foot inside the maze of rough and dusty, shack-lined streets.
During the hand-over process at the end of the exhibition, all shebeen owners were given a SafeShebeen tool kit consisting of a customized rule poster, rule stickers, buttons as well as a whistle and red/yellow warning cards to call out misbehaving customers. The goal of this kit was to provide a basic set of tools that shebeen owners may use to display, articulate and uphold the specific rules that they feel are most important within their respective establishments, with the overall goal of making Sweet Home Farm into a safer community.
The overall intent of this project has been to create a low-cost, self-sustaining intervention to reduce levels of violence and social conflict within shebeens in Sweet Home Farm. The idea is that shebeen owners themselves, empowered through the process of articulating rules and contributing to the visual design of rule symbols, will pledge to uphold these regulations within their respective establishments.
As an entirety, SLF understands that this project is the first of its type to have been initiated, anywhere. While shebeen owners, community leaders and the community at large have largely embraced the project with sincere enthusiasm, at SLF, we are keen to learn whether or not the project will, indeed have a long-term impact towards reduced levels of violence in Sweet Home Farm.
Is there the potential to expand the program to other shebeens within the settlement? Is it possible to redesign and scale-up the project in other communities that exhibit high levels of shebeen-related violence? We will be considering these possibilities as we follow-up with shebeeners over the coming months. Only time will tell.