engage taximen on abuse

Lisa Vetten

The outrageous sexual violation of Nwabisa Ngcukana at Noord Street taxi rank was barbaric, as many shocked members of the public have said.

But perhaps something positive may come out of this terrible incident if we treat it as a wake-up call to make public transport safer for women.

Research by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation has shown that of the reported gang rapes that took place in the Johannesburg's inner city, 11 percent were perpetrated along roads or alleyways, while eight percent were committed at transport nodes such as bus stops, taxi ranks and train stations.

Another 31 percent occurred in open spaces like parks, stretches of veld and parking areas.

It is not only taxi drivers' attitudes that puts women at risk of sexual violence. Transport terminuses are not always designed with commuters' safety in mind. Lighting in and around transport depots is sometimes poor and the terminus points are filled with dark corners and passageways where attackers hide. It is also easy to trap women in tunnels and alleyways leading out of train stations.

Some public transport nodes are also located in deserted areas where few people can observe what is happening, or come to someone's assistance.

In the course of their daily travels to and from work, many women must also walk across vacant, overgrown land - which once again, presents opportunities for rapes and robberies.

Noord Street, like many other transport terminuses, is busy and congested. There is little space for pedestrians to walk comfortably. This crowding together of people provides ample opportunity for some men to touch or brush against women inappropriately.

It is not only thoughtless urban planning that makes transport nodes dangerous. Many potential rapists lurk at taxi ranks, bus stops and train stations on the lookout for women new to a particular area and looking for work.

Offering employment, the men lure women to another site where they are then raped. This method was used by serial rapist Mongezi Jinxela and serial killer Moses Sithole, who tricked their victims into walking with them.

None of these problems are, however, insurmountable.

Safety audits could be carried out at every transport terminus, asking women commuters how safe they feel and what improvements they can suggest to make the area safer.

Taxi associations that actively implement the findings of the safety audits could declare their ranks women-friendly, while those which fail to do so could face having their terminus closed.

The particular taxi association could also be penalised until they get their rank in order.

As part of this process, taxi bodies need to develop and commit themselves, their drivers and marshals, to a code prohibiting women passengers from being sexually harassed or treated in a discriminatory fashion.

To ensure that the message hits home, these efforts must be accompanied by workshops on gender equality, sexual harassment and rape.

Other interventions could include the installation of surveillance cameras, barriers to ease pedestrian congestion, as well as good, working lighting.

l Lisa Vetten is a senior researcher and policy analyst at Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre.