Things of beauty: Rock girl benches

Titled Rock Girl, after the slogan “strike a woman, strike a rock”, Baird got the idea three years ago when she was volunteering at the Red River School in Manenberg, Cape Town.

“Girls were not participating in the after-school running programme because they did not feel safe on the sports field,” she explains.

“[We] began documenting the conditions around and at school, and created a plan to make their environment safer, starting with a safe place to sit at school when the older boys and gangsters harassed them.”

This simple intervention has inspired artists and designers such as Paul du Toit, Laurie van Heerden, Aidan Hart, Boyd Ferguson and Tracy Lynch to get involved, resulting in some 17 benches installed in central Cape Town, each with a sister bench installed at a school in the township, over the past two years.

“Each bench is linked to a toll-free number, which connects women to opportunities, resources and support, as well as inspiring stories of 75 successful South African women, from Life and Soul: Portraits of Women Who Move South Africa, compiled by Karina Turok and Margie Orford,” Baird goes on.


Earlier this year, the first bench in Johannesburg was installed at the Sunlight Safe House, designed by Switch and sponsored by Investec. A sister bench is installed at De Waal Park in Cape Town.

Just after Rock Girl announced that they have been short-listed as an official World Design Capital 2014 project, the newest bench, designed by architect Mokena Makeka, was unveiled at the Prestwich Memorial alongside Cape Town’s fan-walk bridge — although this location is temporary.

“I thought of a piece of furniture that was quite elegant and tough; might seem angular or austere from certain perspectives, but quite forgiving when you come into contact with it,” says Makeka.

The powder-dusted grey steel bench comprises faceted planes that make it seem both modernist and futuristic. It comes with a padded weatherproof jacket that is securely fastened with very strong magnets.

Relying on corporate sponsors and goodwill for funding, the Rock Girl budget is tight and Makeka admits to having extended his stipend to up to R30 000 from his own pocket.

“There’s this discourse around making benches uncomfortable so that you don’t lie down on them because of prostitution, you don’t make them wide enough so that people don’t sit for too long.

“Instead I wanted a bench that was more like a chaise longue, rather than a bench that could only be sat on for five minutes. Three people can sit on it or one person can take a nap,” says Makeka.

The cover is adorned with line art infographics that relate the city of Cape Town to its larger context in Africa and the world — the distance to Kilimanjaro, for instance. This is the first Rock Girl bench that has no fixed location and is travelling around the city seeking a home.

“Benches have a very specific location but I also wanted people to think about the broader city when they sit on the bench,” says Mokena.

Regarding permission, Baird says “the city and in particular mayor Patricia de Lille have been great support”.

In a city that still doesn’t have a public art policy and is hosting the World Design Capital in less than six months’ time, these functional creative interventions with social good at heart uplift the spirit.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Nadine Botha
Guest Author

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: Marcia Mayaba —Driven to open doors for women

Marcia Mayaba has been in the motor industry for 24 years, donning hats that include receptionist, driver, fuel attendant, dealer principal and now chief...

The war on women in video game culture

Women and girls make up almost half of the gaming community but are hardly represented and face abuse in the industry

More top stories

Gatvol Capetonians, EFF lash out at City of Cape Town...

Public infrastructure was allegedly damaged by the activist group in 2019 and by the Economic Freedom Fighters in 2020

Masuku loses appeal against SIU report on Covid graft

The judge found that when news of improprieties were brought to his attention, Masuku did not take steps to urgently intervene

Leaking De Ruyter’s affidavit countering racism claims was ‘malicious’ and...

Mkhuleko Hlengwa has pointed to people in Eskom or the public enterprises department for making the document public

SABS ‘contemplates’ 170 retrenchments to save R150m

Salaries account for 65% of the South African Bureau of Standards’ total operating‌ costs
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…