Rhodes Exclusions a Result of Criminality, No Student Disciplined for ProtestingDate Released: Wed, 13 December 2017 10:58 +0200
Rhodes University notes with deep concern the gross misrepresentation of facts and attempts at manipulating public opinion by some of the students who have been excluded from the University for committing criminal acts.
A former Rhodes student, Ms Noxolo Mfocwa, who herself was excluded in 2016 for a period of three years, reduced on review from four, for punching a female constable in the face, kicking, scratching and swearing at her, among other transgressions, has been making false and self-interested claims regarding her matter and about an unrelated matter involving two other female former students who were recently excluded permanently.
Two other male students were excluded for four years, increased on review to five, for assaulting two unarmed campus protection officers in 2016.
None of the charges against any of the students relate to the protests which took place in the same year or to the anonymous publication of a list of alleged rapists. Protest is a constitutionally protected right. Rhodes policy upholds this right and the University has never and, will never charge anyone for protesting lawfully.
While the two recently excluded students did indeed take part in the protest, their participation in the protest had nothing to do with the charges against them and/or with their exclusion from the University.
The University distinguishes between the necessary vigorous pursuit of a common objective to eliminate sexual and gender-based violence on the one hand, and abusing such a noble cause as a cover to commit acts of criminality, which serve to undermine the noble struggle.
The two female students were found guilty by an independent panel of committing common law crimes against their fellow students, including kidnapping and assault. It should be noted that, contrary to claims made by the students in the media and on online platforms, none of the kidnap victims were found guilty in any forum of any form of sexual misconduct or rape, even after thorough investigations were conducted by the University and the National Prosecuting Authority. These students were kidnapped, humiliated and tormented on the strength of an equivocal list published on social media by anonymous author(s) in which no allegation of rape against them had been made.
The “illegal actions” for which the students were excluded from the University were found by the High Court, in a separate action, to have “made serious inroads into the rights and liberties of others.”
The students appealed and lost at the Supreme Court of Appeals. They then appealed to the Constitutional Court seeking to challenge the basis upon which the High Court satisfied itself of their involvement in the “unlawful conduct”.
The Constitutional Court upheld the order by the High Court, which it found reflected “a detailed consideration of both the law… as well as the facts.”
An independent disciplinary panel made similar findings in respect of the unlawful acts committed by the two former students which led to the sanction of permanent exclusion from the University imposed on them.
Through meticulous analysis of evidence, the Chairperson of the Disciplinary process found that the two female students were indeed guilty of the charges levelled against them. The Chairperson observed that “kidnapping is a very serious offence and cannot be countenanced by any University. In this regard, deterrence is a paramount consideration. The University is under an obligation to create and maintain a safe environment for all its students.”
Since the protest in 2016 a Sexual Violence Task Team which the University set up to investigate and make recommendations in respect of a counter-culture to rape at the University submitted its report with over 90 recommendations.
A multi-stakeholder committee, which included a judge, processed the recommendations. Various educational and awareness, policy and consequence management initiatives have since been implemented. The report has also been facilitated through various institutional structures including the Institutional Planning Committee and Senate. A standing committee on violence on campus has also been established reporting directly to Senate.
An elaborate support and adjudication system has been established to deal with rape and gender violence incidents. Various structures from incident reporting, 24-hour counselling services, social and personal support and an independent panel presiding over rape cases are staffed by high-profile and legally competent female gender activists.
Three male students have during this year been excluded for rape, two permanently and one for 10 years. The University had strenuously, albeit unsuccessfully, argued for a harsher sentence in the latter case. Contrary to claims made on social media, no student who has been found guilty of rape has ever been allowed to remain on campus.
Protest action is a constitutionally entrenched right, which is respected and indeed supported by the University, so long as it is exercised lawfully. Rhodes will protect these rights for everyone. What the University cannot protect and what the law does not protect, however, is unlawful conduct and the undermining of the rights and liberties of others. It is extremely unfortunate when illegality is committed in the name of a necessary and important campaign against gender-based violence.
Our University is resolute in its commitment to eradicate all forms of gender-based violence within the institution and to contribute to efforts in dealing with the scourge in our society.
* Rhodes announced last month an investigation into a case involving a lecturer after a post was placed online alleging harassment by the staff member.