Safe Shebeens

Safe Shebeens – Be inspired

In a nutshell

"Safe Shebeens" is an action research project in Sweet Home Farm, Philippi, which uses innovative methods to intervene against violence in shebeens. 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 (informal liquor traders) 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.

What we do

In 2014, SLF embarked on the Safe Shebeens Project, seeking to contribute to reducing alcohol-related harms by promoting safety in shebeens (unlicensed liquor outlets) that are notorious in government and media circles for being ‘unsafe’. The project promoted safety through signs that communicate house and safety rules adopted by shebeen owners to patrons. The advantage of signs is that they are visible and bridge the literacy gap in townships.

SLF 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. 

How we do it

The "Safe Shebeens" project was initiated in March 2014 by the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation. An aim of this project has been to understand the forms of violence and social disruption most commonly associated with shebeens. Understanding this, the research team sought to design a low-cost intervention to improve safety in the informal settlement of Sweet Home Farm, Cape Town.

The project involved a series of creative engagements with various groups of community members, including both drinkers and non-drinkers, shebeen owners and community leaders. Through the use of interviews, workshops and dialogues, a set of behaviours emerged around what is seen as "acceptable" and "unacceptable" social behaviour in the context of shebeens.

As a starting point 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.

Working in consultation with the community and a team of designers, a system of rules and their corresponding symbols was developed. The intent of these highly visual symbols was to initiate a dialogue around safety and respect, and to empower shebeen owners to uphold rules of their choosing within their respective venues.

On October 24th 2014, an exhibition was held in Sweet Home Farm, to wrap up the first stage of the project. 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.

What we have achieved

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.

All participating shebeeners were interested in taking responsibility for some matters of insecurities and harms related to shebeens and were keen to develop patron rules. Another positive impact of the reflective learning process is that shebeeners have adopted patron rules they may have been opposed to before - a rule that seeks to promote tolerance towards foreigners had been a rule chosen by only one shebeener at the beginning of the process. At the end of the process 90% of shebeeners have adopted this rule.

The shebeeners participating in this process have developed a close relationship and sense of solidarity. They now no longer simply see each other only as competitors, but also as fellow “colleagues” who can be critical of each other’s business practices and hold one another accountable in this regard.

What we have learned

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.

Having obtained a stronger understanding of the social influence of shebeens within the community, the project began a process of engagement with the shebeeners. The first step in this phase of the project was to gain an in-depth understanding of the social and spatial strategies that individual shebeen owners sought to apply to influence safety in their shebeens. But unlike our previous research on this topic, the aim was to involve the shebeens in the processes of enquiry, analysis and in the presentation of the findings through a poster, which the participants could retain as a safety tool.

Furthermore, given the indications of previous research that there is a need to differentiate different types of shebeens with regards to assessing their positive and negative impact on community safety, it was important to represent such diversity in the ongoing research process. Hence the selection of shebeen owners in this phase aimed at representing male and female owners; different typologies of shebeens; shebeens targeting clientele over 35 years or clientele mainly below 35 years; shebeens attracting males only or mixed clientele; and shebeens offering only drinks or drinks and entertainment, food or other services.