Taking a drive down Klipfontein Road in Cape Town can be a herculean task depending on the time of the day. Pedestrians, taxis, Golden Arrow buses and cars all compete for pole position on the road. Hawkers dipping and diving through the busy race, trying to sell fruits, vegetables or other wares. After passing through Athlone, and crossing Jakes Gerwel Drive, you eventually arrive at the gates of the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children (SBC). The gates sit just on the edge of Manenberg, a large community in the Cape flats.

The facility is a labyrinth. “Kind of like navigating service providers as a survivor of gender-based violence (GBV),” quips Advocate Bernadine Bachar, the centre’s fiercely passionate Director, while taking Health-e for a tour. The eggshell-coloured concrete walls have an institutional feel like an old hospital or clinic. “It used to be a substance abuse facility,” says Bachar. 

Despite the coldness of the walls, the warmth of the centre seeps from every corner. Children’s laughter fills the halls alongside motivational posters, artwork and beautiful murals. It is clear the SBC is a much-loved safe haven for women and children.

“I always say it takes the greatest amount of courage to get to those gates,” says Bachar.

(Photo: Jame Fowler)

The SBC has been around for 23 years and was the very first one-stop centre for women and children survivors nationally, providing a holistic package of services. Today, the centre has helped over 250 000 women and children. Why Manenberg? The Cape flats is an area characterised by high levels of unemployment, poverty, abuse against women and children, substance abuse, gangsterism, and many social challenges, explains Bachar. The centre’s creation was in response to a clear-cut need in the community. 

Advocate Bernadine Bachar, Director of the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children. (Photo: James Fowler)