A year ago, Rock Girl unveiled six public benches that were inspired by the young girls from Red River Primary School in Manenberg. These girls, who live on the front lines in the struggle to create a safer city for women and girls, decided to take it upon themselves to make their own school and lives safer bye creating a safe space bench at their school, and motivating for other benches like it around the city in Gugulethu, the Waterfront, on Signal Hill, and in Khayelitsha.
Since last August, these girls have not only improved their school and their own community, but have had a profound impact on the city and on South Africa. In partnership with their teachers, parents, community members, artists, other students, and many more, they have painted their entire school, created a new after-school art and study room and library, and planted over 100 trees. With the help of Rock Girl, the girls’ efforts have led to the installation of over 30 Rock Girl “Safe Space” benches around Cape Town, with the first Rock Girl bench to be installed in Johannesburg later this month. These young women are leaders, change-makers, and champions for all women and girls, and everyone.
The girls (and boys) of Red River are walking in the footsteps of one of their lesser known but exceptionally courageous ancestors, Krotoa. At the same age, Krotoa began working as a translator on behalf of Jan van Riebeek and the Cape Colony. Despite her young age, she helped shape the future of the young nation, negotiating peace, building relationships, and uniting disparate communities to create a place that was safe for her and her children. She died before her efforts were fully realized. Today, Women’s Day, we have made many advances and are much closer to Krotoa’s dream of a society that is safe for everyone, but we still have much work to do. It is initiatives like Rock Girl and the young people of Manenberg that ultimately lead us to this reality. Today, Mayor Patricia de Lille unveiled three more Safe Space benches, including a bench designed by mosaic artist Lovell Friedman to remember Krotoa, a bench by Laurie van Heerden, and a bench by Aram Lello. These benches are functional, beautiful, inspirational, and educational – offering a respite along one of our busiest thoroughfares.
The creation of Krotoa Place on St. Georges Mall honors the legacy of Krotoa and so many unnamed, courageous women like her. But it also urges us – you, me, the girls from Manenberg, everyone – to ensure that our mothers, sisters, daughters, friends are safe and have the opportunity to grow into the leaders that we need. Together, we can create the South Africa we all deserve.