Eastern Cape Universities to join forces against sexual violence

For the first time in the eight year history of the Silent Protest, students from Walter Sisulu University and the University of Fort Hare will join forces with the Rhodes University Silent Protest on 1 August 2014 to show solidarity with women and men who are silenced by sexual violence.

The Silent Protest, organised by Rhodes University’s Student Affairs Division, is the biggest protest against rape and sexual violence in South Africa. It is unique worldwide in its carefully planned, two day programme of events.

The visiting students from Fort Hare and Walter Sisulu Universities will join the thousands of students, staff members and members of the Grahamstown community expected to participate in this year’s Silent Protest. They are coming to bear witness and experience the protest for themselves, with a view to organising similar protests at their own universities next year.  

Last year, Rhodes alumni who had participated in the protest during their studies at Rhodes, took the protest to the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Once again this year, WITS will be holding a Silent Protest on the same day and The AIDS Healthcare Foundation will be hosting the first ever Durban Silent Protest.

The primary purpose of the Silent Protest is to highlight and challenge the attitudes and practices which contribute to a culture of silence around sexual violence in our country. It’s hard to comprehend the extent of this problem that cuts across age, race and socioeconomic status and where the perpetrators are most often known to the victims.

In South Africa, violence in intimate relationships is so common it is normalised, with many simply accepting that ‘that’s the way it is’. The Silent Protest challenges the unspoken tolerance of violence in its many forms.

“As organisers of Silent Protest at Rhodes University, we were horrified by the death of Amanda Tweyi, who was murdered on campus earlier in April,” said Rhodes Silent Protest co-ordinator and spokesperson, Ms Kim Barker. Tweyi was shot dead by her boyfriend who was the father of her child.

“The Silent Protest is one event in an ongoing programme of events. We organise events which open up conversations about taboo subjects like violence in relationships and sexual violence and break the silences while leave people suffering in isolation (http://www.ru.ac.za/criticalstudies/news/loveandviolence.html). We will be remembering Amanda Tweyi and all whose lives have been devastated and lost through gender-based violence at the lunchtime die-in on 1 August,” she added.

Over the eight years that the Silent Protest has been held at Rhodes University, it has grown from 80 participants in its first year to around 1500 in 2013. In 2013 with the WITS and UKZN protests and a solidarity march in Cape Town, more than 3000 protestors participated nationally on the day.

A significant development at Rhodes this year is that the protest has shifted from being primarily a student event, to being something that is supported across the University. More than 200 staff members have signed up to participate.   

Up until now Silent Protest has focussed primarily on violence against women. While this remains an important element of the protest, last year men were also invited to sign up for rape survivor t-shirts. None did. We are acutely aware that silence and shame is as much of an issue for male survivors of sexual violence, and this year we are highlighting both statistics: In South Africa, 1 in 3 women will be sexually violated in her lifetime, as will 1 in 6 men.

The vast majority of rapes go unreported even to friends or loved ones.  Most survivors choose silence or are silenced when they do speak up. The SAPS estimate that only 1 out of every 25 rapes is reported to the police. Some survivors are silenced by fear of the perpetrator; many are afraid of not being believed, of being blamed and shunned, of being interrogated, retraumatised, labelled or pitied.

Attitudes and beliefs in societies which judge the victim/survivor more harshly than the perpetrator are powerfully silencing.  The silence extends even further than the survivors though. Many who are aware of sexual violence happening to others don’t speak up either. 

In addition, most survivors doubt that they would achieve justice even if they did report. State service providers do not always respect the rights of rape survivors and often fail to comply with norms and standards set out in national legislation and policy: around 6.5% of reported rapes in SA are successfully prosecuted and less than 0.5% of perpetrators will serve any jail-time.

The Silent Protest makes these silences visible. In a powerful way it raises public awareness about the extent of the problem of sexual violence and offers a space where, in large numbers, protestors can stand in solidarity with all survivors of sexual violence.

How do we stand in solidarity with survivors?

Protestors have their mouths taped shut from 7am until about 5.30pm with black gaffer tape. This has two purposes. The first is that it offers a very stark and powerful image of the silencing associated with sexual violence which at the same time expresses resistance to the silencing and a willingness to stand with survivors.

The second purpose of the taping is that it offers the protestors themselves an experience of being silenced, of sacrificing food, water and speech for a day in service of a greater cause. This doesn’t mean at all that they come to understand what rape survivors go through, but their capacity for empathy and understanding is enlarged.

Why do we protest?

The protest exists as a way to:

  • Raise awareness around the extent of the problem of rape and sexual violence in South Africa
  • Resist and challenge the silences around rape and sexual violence
  • Express and enact solidarity with all victims/survivors of sexual violence
  • Create safe spaces where people can talk about their own experiences of sexual violence

What happens on the day of the Silent Protest?

Silent Protestors will gather before dawn on a Friday 1 August to affirm their commitment to justice and an end to sexual violence and will spend all day wearing purple t-shirts, participating in events designed to get people thinking about the realities of sexual violence and finally coming together at sundown to break the silence.

The following day, on Saturday 2 August, all protestors are invited to spend some time at the Debrief Café: a dedicated space where art materials, clay and informal debriefing conversations are available all day as well as sessions of circle dancing, yoga and pancake making. This commitment to self-care constitutes a different but no less political form of resistance to violence in all its forms.

What are the options available to protestors?

  • Silent Protestor wearing English or Xhosa t-shirt: (taped all day, no food or water)
  • Rape Survivors wearing t-shirt with ‘Rape Survivor’ on the front & explanation on the back (may choose to be taped)
  • Survivors wearing t-shirts with ‘Survivor’ on the front & explanation on the back (may choose to be taped)
  • Solidarity protestors wearing English t-shirt (not taped)

Source:  Communications

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