What’s your response when you witness a person’s inappropriate or possibly threatening behavior in public?Be it a verbal altercation between passengers in a taxi, a cashier and a customer or two people in a relationship? Do you sing the infamous chorus of “I’m not getting involved” or you choose to challenge it and make whoever is involved realise that their behavior is unbecoming? Well, you can choose to challenge this by being an active bystander.


A bystander is a person who recognizes a potentially harmful situation that he or she is not directly affected by. Conversely, active bystanders are people who witness an incident and take an action in preventing it from escalating. This could be a verbal altercation between people we may or may not know.

Being an active bystander means that I take an action that will deter the situation from possibly culminating in a physical fight. This reminds me of an incident that I witnessed a couple of months ago, my teenage brother and his friends were chilling there by a park on one Saturday afternoon when I had just came back from getting a friend into a taxi. On my way home,minding my own business I see a girl of about 13/14 years (I know the girl from a distance, we live in the same neighbourhood) she is swearing at my brother’s friend with all sorts of insults you can think of. At the back of my mind I thought this is wrong and immoral for a child her age to be spewing insults at another child in public. I immediately called her out on her behavior,I vividly remember saying to her ” awuswabi na?(have you no shame)awuyekele ukuthukana!(stop swearing).

Being an active bystander goes a long way,not only in our immediate families and communities but in our society at large. At times it might seem like the situation is just too big to contain or to keep from escalating but your conscience still doesn’t allow you to look the other way.

Here are some tips that can aid your involvement in the active bystanders bandwagon for the greater good of our communities:

Distract: you can simply go to the person involved or whom you think may be in harm’s way and remove them from the situation. Example, ” your friend said I should call you,she/he is waiting outside”. Or “May you please show me where the bathroom is?”

Delegate: You may ask a third party to intervene in the situation,a teacher/elder or a security guard when in a public space. You call the police or any other emergency numbers.

Direct: This one is my favorite. You can step in and overtly call out the person involved. Make them aware that you can see what they are doing. Example: That is not how you should speak to her/him. Or “What you said was insensitive/offensive”


Active bystanding plays a crucial part in extinguishing sexual victimization and public street harassment.

When you witness a possibly endangering situation,and your gut tells you that it probably is an endangering situation,then it probably is that kind of a situation. Trust your gut.