A video of a black woman and a white man involved in a heated altercation that took place at the Texamo Spur at the Glen Shopping Centre, in southern Johannesburg, has gone viral and made news headlines across the nation.
The woman, Lebohang Mabuya, who was both physically threatened and verbally attacked including with racial slurs, told the Huffington Post South Africa that "nobody from Spur intervened except for the two waiters [who] came when [the man] pulled the table. The manager [went] after that guy and his family."
These sort of incidents are commonplace in South Africa and often bystanders who bear witness to them feel helpless. But there are a couple of things you can do to intervene and defuse the situation.
Speaking to eNCA, conflict mediation expert Professor Laurie Nathan from the Centre for Mediation In Africa at the University of Pretoria says that the key thing seen in the video is escalation where what "starts with angry words ... [which escalates to] racial insults, which then escalates into physical threats, and then physical attack on property, which in this case could have resulted in physical attacks on persons". He says that if you are a bystander what what you need to do is to "break the escalation dynamic by separating the parties, which is not always easy to do because it may be necessary to physically separate them...You need to get to get [the perpetrator] to move away, and to do so gently, because if [you] physically restrain [the perpetrator] too forcibly, they may attack you too.
"You have to express some empathy by saying things like 'It's OK, I understand you're angry', because otherwise they see you as part of the problem, not part of the solution," said Nathan.
Kayla Santosuosso, deputy director of the Arab American Association of New York, who hosts workshops on mitigating these sort of conflicts in the US, similarly said in a Huffington Post US video: "Instead of yelling at an aggressor 'you're racist', rather say 'you need to lower your voice and you shouldn't talk to her that way'."
Santosuosso also says that one of the most effective tactics is what she calls "Broken record", which is "repeating the same statement over and over, so that the perpetrator understands the point that you're trying to make". For example, saying "give her space, give her space, give her space". Another effective tactic she says, is using "I statements", such as "I'm uncomfortable with what is happening right now. I need you to stop doing what you're doing" as that effectively moves the attention from the victim.