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Using Data to Strengthen City Safety Strategies in E Thekweni Municipality

Nomusa Shembe



Wednesday, June 29, 2022


Multifunction Hall Room 20
E Thekweni Municipality
South Africa
Integrated Governance in Spatial Planning for a More Just, Green, and Healthy Urban Future
NE 140


In South Africa, like other developing countries, women and girls face multiple challenges daily. Most women perceive themselves to be particularly unsafe while moving around the city. Dependent on unreliable public transport and faced with inadequate facilities, women struggle to access education and opportunities. For cities to be accessible for women, provision of accessible, reliable and affordable transport is essential. To address this challenge, Soul City Institute and Safetipin collaborated to use technology to collect different sorts of data to inform interventions towards making public spaces and public transport safer. Safetipin brings in a range of technology tools for large-scale and efficient data collection. Further, My Safetipin app is also available for crowdsourcing data from the public. A formal partnership with the eThekwini municipality has ensured that this data is used to inform policy and programs as well as changes on the ground. The project engaged with multiple stakeholders including the taxi association and a local network of organisations working to address VAWG. Data was collected over the period 2019-2021 across streets in the city, at taxi ranks and in two lower income neighbourhoods in partnership with local community organisations. The project was slowed by the constraints of COVID-19 and by a spate of riots in July 2021 that dramatically set back safety in the city, yet it has generated over 400 safety audits that reflect individual journeys during the last 2 years. Data was generated by women who volunteered to participate and by taxi drivers who were engaged through their taxi associations. The collected data has been analysed to give information on the existing conditions of the civic infrastructure supported with user comments on feeling of safety and images linked to the geotagged points. The data is in itself valuable, but becomes more so in engagement with inclusive and transversal city officials. Building the capacity of city officials to understand and respond to the data is very useful to changing the way in which city safety is perceived by officials who do not necessarily see themselves as contributing to city safety because their core mandates lie in infrastructure or transport or provision of electricity or other apparently unrelated services. The project also provides important insights into the role of communication and behaviour change in improving city safety. While the city holds the mandates for instance for maintaining infrastructure, this is made much harder by criminal activity that vandalises or destroys infrastructure, adding sometimes unbearable cost and burden to a city with limited resources and capacity. Thus the recommendations from the collected data aim to improve infrastructure and public services to enable women to move around without fear and exercise their rights equitably.


This event will showcase the way in which different technology tools have been used to collect quantitative, qualitative and spatial data to improve safety and accessibility of public spaces. The Safer Cities unit of eThekwini Municipality in South Africa is a key partner in this project, which combines the experience of the Safetipin team with the Soul City Institute’s deep understanding of the local environment and strong social media and feminist activism profile. The event aims to provide important insights into the role of data in improving local safety for women, and thus for city dwellers more broadly. It further aims to explore the value placed on lived experience crowd-sourced data in a field where very often there is little value placed on qualitative data versus big data sets, in particular crime statistics. While it is broadly acknowledged that perceptions of unsafety are at least as significant as the lack of safety itself, few tools exist that demonstrate the links between perceptions of unsafety and city mandates for safety. In promoting the role of the city in enabling safety, particularly of women, the project showcased in this event demonstrates the benefits of making these important connections, both for users of city infrastructure and public transport systems and for those who are tasked with providing services that can mitigate vulnerability and victimisation.

Session speakers

Ms. Nomusa Shembe
Senior Manager
eThekweni Municipality
Mr Sandile Mbatha
Head Research & Policy Advocacy
E Thekweni Municipality
Ms Phinah Kodisang
Soul City Institute
Ms. Barbara Holtmann
Soul City Institute
Mr. Juma Assiago
UN Habitat Safer Cities
Dr. Kalpana Viswanath
Ms Sonali Vyas
Program Heas