‘Come in if you’re unsafe’

Melody Shneider, of Sea Point, says she is afraid for her unborn daughter.

City establishments have committed themselves to being a safe space for women.

As people across the city voiced their outrage at the rampant violent crime, particularly that perpetrated against women and children, the Raptor Room in Roeland Street got the ball rolling when it launched its #comein campaign, inviting women to step inside for help if they ever felt unsafe on the street.

Co-owner Danel Maree, said when they opened three years ago, they aimed to be a space that doesn’t discriminate against. “Being a queer restaurant, we always wanted a space everyone can be themselves in, and in light of all the protests and violence in the country, we created a post to support the cause.”

As she was composing her post, she said, a woman ran in, saying she felt like she was being followed and wanted to sit down until the person she thought was following her was gone.

“I looked at this girl and I thought ‘this was necessary, so we decided to start this thing where, if women feel unsafe, they are welcome to wait it out here or come inside, even if they have no money to spend.

Ms Maree said: “Both owners are women and most of our employees are female, so it is important for us to show our passion and support.”

She said they will be creating signage on the window to show that they are part of #comein, and they will keep advocating to make sure it is not a once-off initiative.

Soon after the social post went viral, La Mouette in Green Point, and Upper Bloem Restaurant in Sea Point joined in, and more businesses all over the city are doing the same.

Among them is Den Anker at the Waterfront whose general manager, Rejeanne Vlietman, said while people felt a sense of security at the Waterfront, recent events have shown that these “horrible things” happen anywhere.

“We decided to avail ourselves for anyone wandering around feeling unsafe, and we will facilitate a cab or a safe walk back to the car, or help whichever way we can.”

Co-owner of Obi Restaurant in Long Street, Benjamin Bettendorf, said they have allowed people who felt unsafe to wait it out in their restaurant. “With everything happening, people are more aware of it now, but there is no set limit to what we can do to help someone out. We’ve had instances in the past where people were bothered and came to us for help, and we are happy to help.”

Ms Maree said she and her staff had closed shop to join the protest at Parliament last Thursday during which thousands of women and men had called on government to take action to stem the ongoing violent attacks on women and children.

The protest was one of many which occurred in the city centre and in other communities over the past week.

On Wednesday, a protest turned violent when women marched to the Cape Town Convention Centre, where President Cyril Ramaphosa was attending the World Economic Forum meeting on Africa.

Police fired stun grenades and turned a water cannon on protesters who planned to occupy the highway until the president – who did not show – came to speak to them.

Eleven students were arrested, but later released.

Emotions also ran high when women came out with their stories of sexual assault, and how helpless they felt when they were harassed or assaulted at the marches and over social media.

During Thursday’s mass protest, however, Mr Ramaphosa came out to receive the memorandum and addressed women who were dressed in black and purple, holding up posters saying “Enough” and “My body is not your crime scene”, and “Men – your silence is deafening”.

Addressing the angry protesters, he agreed that enough is enough. “We are going to draw a line in the sand to ensure that as a government we heighten the protection and the safety of women of our nation. We are going to be addressing the issues of harsher penalties,” he said.

Later that day, in a televised address to the nation, Mr Ramaphosa promised that he would look at restructuring the criminal justice system, opening more dedicated courts to deal with cases of violence against women and children, and harsher prison sentences for sexual offenders and murderers, among other things.

At the protest, women cried and shouted out as people voiced their anger at the situation, calling for the death penalty.

Danica Kemp, from Ottery, said her rapist was now a police officer. “He took my virginity at 13 years old, and now he is part of the police. The justice system failed me.” It is for this reason, she said, that she supports the call for the reinstatement of the death penalty.

Bertha Jains, 17, from St Cyprian’s School and Giorgia Mann, 16, from Springfield Convent School in Wynberg, also joined the protest.

Giorgia said she also supported the death penalty for rape and murder. “We also have to pay attention to cat-calling and groping in public. This is where it starts – it’s part of rape culture,” she said.

Bertha said the president should act immediately and not debate the situation in Parliament. “He needs to take charge; he needs to act now. He has our lives and the lives of women and children in his hands.”

She said the school she attended did not want them to join the march, but she decided to go anyway, because “how are we supposed to study when we are dead”?

Melody Schneider, from Sea Point, who is pregnant with a baby girl, said she was very scared to bring her child into a country where the justice system had failed so many.

“I feel like there is nothing we can do to keep her safe, and that we will be let down if anything should happen to her – God forbid.”

Of Mr Ramaphosa’s proposals, she said: “We also need the police to do their work correctly when it comes to crime, otherwise it will be pointless to restructure the justice system.”

Importantly, she said, society also needed to change the way men treat women.

Carin Bester of Observatory said: “We are sick and tired of women being raped and killed, and all that is given are ‘condolences’ from the president – it’s too late to say sorry. We demand that the government declare a state of emergency.”

Ms Bester made a statement in her dress filled with “bloody” panties representing those of all ages who had been sexually assaulted.

Other protests in the city centre included Mitchell’s Plain pensioner Venetia Orgill chaining herself to the gates of Parliament last Friday, a candlelight vigil on the Grand Parade throughout Saturday night, and a demonstration by Harold Cressy High School pupils in Roeland Street.

CPUT had also declared Black Monday at CPUT this week in support of victims and survivors of gender-based violence.