RED RIVER Primary School in Manenberg is not always a happy space. Blocks of flats look down on the school’s classrooms, and young men hang out of the flats’ windows, whistling at and cat-calling the school’s female pupils, sometimes even throwing stones at them.
A group of Grade 6 pupils decided that rather than enduring the treatment, they wanted to see positive change. So when a human rights lawyer visited the school some months ago, they brainstormed an idea with her to create a safe space in the school’s enclosed tuckshop area.
The pupils said they wanted a bench to sit on as well as a bright mural to liven up the space.
The lawyer, India Baird, and the girls started working at the school and that was when the idea for Rock Girls Safe Spaces was born. The campaign is a grassroots public art and education initiative to inspire and motivate for safe spaces for girls and women (and everyone) in SA.
The campaign grew from the bench at the school to having 20 “Safe Space” one-of-a-kind public benches being installed across Cape Town. One of the benches was shown at the recent Design Indaba and is on display at the CTICC. Others will be placed at the Table Mountain National Park, St Georges Mall, the Haven Night Shelter in Woodstock, Football for Hope Centre in Khayelitsha, Amy Biehl Memorial in Gugulethu and in other areas.
The benches will be made in collaboration with local designers and mosaic artists, and one of the benches will also be designed in partnership with Justice Albie Sachs
Since August, Rock Girl has unveiled seven Safe Space benches with Cape Town Partnership, which form part of the 2014 Design Capital initiative.
Baird said she was amazed to see how the campaign had grown since she first visited the school a year ago, “I met Michaela (one of the Grade 6 pupils) and asked her how she would make the school safer. From there we started cleaning the bathrooms and creating the murals and now we have an art room.
“In making the school safer, we are making Cape Town a safer place.”
Michaela Appolles, 14, was the pupil who approached a teacher at the school to bring Baird back to help them make it safe.
She said they just wanted a safe place away from the jeering boys and didn’t realise it would grow into a city-wide campaign.
The pupils also helped to convert an old storeroom, which had broken windows and was piled high with broken chairs and tables. With help from the Cécile & Boyd’s Design for Charity Foundation the pupils worked to create a brightly coloured space to work in.
The room will be used during school hours by all grades to enhance their arts programme and as a place for them to go after school. Michaela said the pupils were happy to have an art room.
Mia van Wyk, from the Cécile and Boyd Foundation said that when she heard about the school from Baird she offered to help make the art room a reality.
It took two-and-a-half months of painting, scrubbing and moving furniture around to turn the disused classroom into an art room, complete with brightly coloured walls, chairs, paints and pictures hanging around the room.
Speaking at the launch of the art room recently, US consul-general Erica Barks-Ruggles said she was inspired by the work done by the Grade 6 pupils at the school.
Addressing them, she said, “When I come to a place like this and see what you’re doing, I’m inspired to make your city… your school a safer place. You inspire adults to do the right thing”.