A safer ride home

The following piece appeared in the Sunday Times, 7 August 2016.

By Leigh-Ann Hunter

It’s late in the evening by the time Nonhlanhla Skosana finishes up for the day and I reach her on the phone. She’s the person on the ground of the Safe Ride! campaign, which aims to reduce sexual harassment and violence towards women in taxis and at taxi ranks around South Africa.

Sonke Gender Justice, an NGO where Skosana is community education mobilisation unit acting manager, has partnered with the South African National Taxi Council to run the 12-month campaign.

The main push for the project came from the high number of cases of violence against women passengers by taxi drivers as well as queue marshals, Skosana explains.

“We have a number of women working awkward hours. Their only source of transport is taxis, so this exposes them to rape and assault. The taxi industry is not well regulated in terms of these issues. Some women don’t report the case because they know police don’t do anything, and they don’t know who to report to in the taxi industry.”

The Safe Ride! campaign, funded by the Danish embassy, aims to change this through a number of activities.

“The most important part is to engage and educate taxi drivers so they hold each other accountable and create a safe space for women within the taxi industry,” Skosana says.

Sonke will be training peer educators within the taxi industry on issues of gender equality and sexual violence. Over the phone, even though it’s late at night, Skosana’s passion comes across.

“I’ve seen how important it is to engage men… because we have men in our communities who are very positive and those are the men we can rely on to change other men.”

Decals designed by local artists will be produced for a number of flagship taxis.

“Taxis have stickers with negative messages against women. We want to change that and display stickers with positive messaging and information in terms of, if you are raped or threatened, where can you go.”

MTN taxi rank in downtown Johannesburg is one of the busiest in the city so murals will be created there. The campaign will also get its message across on television screens at taxi ranks, pamphlets, community radio – and by speaking to people through community dialogues and public education events.

“We want to create an environment where both the commuters and taxi drivers engage,” says Skosana.

The campaign will be launched on August 17 at the MTN taxi rank on Bree Street in Johannesburg from 10am to 1pm and Skosana encourages the public to attend. “We also urge the public to report cases of sexual harassment in the taxi industry… Most of the time people keep quiet. We would like people to be courageous.”