On Monday, 08 August 2016, Rhodes University, at the request of the HEAIDS Office of the Department of Higher education and Training (DHET) and on behalf of the national post-secondary education and training sector, hosted the inaugural national Dialogue on Sexual and Gender Based Violence. The purpose of this Dialogue was to engage with a broad representation of government and civil society organisations with a view to finding comprehensive, effective, implementable and sustainable solutions to the pernicious national scourge of sexual and gender-based violence, which is reflected in our institutions of higher learning.
The Deputy Minister of Higher Education & Training, Mr Mduduzi Manana, Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia (Director: HEAIDs), the university sector, and the TVET sector, are all firmly of the view that the most effective response to the sexual and gender-based violence requires full participation of all role-players in the sector – students, university leadership, academic and support staff, the NGO sector, government departments and the law enforcement arm of government.
To this end, participants and representatives travelled, at expense, from different parts of the country to gather at Rhodes University for the express purpose of engaging with each other with a view to finding solutions to the pernicious scourge of sexual and gender-based violence. Participants included thirteen (13) universities, twenty-one (21) TVET Colleges, various government departments (Department of Social Development, Department of Justice & Constitutional Development, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Department of Safety & Security, South African Police Services (SAPS), Department of Basic Education), and various non-governmental organisations – including Kwanele-enuf, the AIDS Care Foundation and Soul City.
Regrettably, this important national Dialogue could not proceed as planned, as a small group of Rhodes students and a couple of staff chose to disrupt it. Despite numerous attempts by the Chairperson, Dialogue panelists and representatives to engage these dissenting students to articulate their concerns, this went unheeded. It was clear that they were not interested in any form of engagement or discussion and were determined to collapse the national Dialogue.
Our University condemns in the strongest terms the unacceptable behaviour of this small group of students and staff, who displayed contempt, disregard and disrespect for a process that could have resulted in a meaningful and constructive plan of action for change. They were clearly not interested in any serious and meaningful engagement to find solutions to the scourge of sexual and gender-based violence in our institutions of higher education. We further condemn the holding of Deputy Minister Mduduzi Manana hostage, preventing him from getting into his car and the throwing of objects such as bottles at his car. The unacceptable conduct of this small group of students does not in any way reflect the wishes of the majority in our university and society at large who would like to see sexual and gender-based violence addressed and completely eradicated. An overwhelming majority of Rhodes University students and staff identify with and support the cause to rid our University and society of sexual and gender-based violence. They however cannot associate themselves with the intolerance, violence and anarchic behaviour of a small group of students and their supporters.
This group of students claimed not to have been invited to the planned Dialogue and not aware of it until the night before it was to take place. In fact, one of the leading student protesters had confirmed her participation as a panellist but chose to withdraw from the event on Thursday, 4th August 2016.
We wish to state on record that an open invitation was extended to the entire university community to attend the dialogue, which was advertised widely to both staff and students in the following ways:
- Social Media:
- The official SRC page; the Rhodes University Library Facebook page; Rhodes University International Office page
- Rhodes University Advertising Banner (website: www.ru.ac.za)
- A poster campaign advertised the dialogue extensively around campus
- Communicated to and through the Rhodes University residence wardening system
- Official staff and student mail lists “Toplist” and “Studentnews” respectively with the opening line: “Dr Mabizela Encourages All Students and Staff to Attend the Inaugural National Gender-Based-Violence Policy Dialogue”
- Rhodes Music Radio
- Local news media press releases
- SRC advertisement
Despite the setback of Monday,
- We remain resolute in our commitment to confront and address the scourge of sexual and gender-based violence in our university and beyond.
- We will work with all individuals and groups that share our vision of a safe and secure university campus in which sexual and gender-based violence has no place.
- We will continue to enhance our support systems for the survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.
- We remain firmly committed to ensuring that we provide timely, empathetic and caring support for any of our staff and students who may fall victim to such a traumatic experience.
- We remain undeterred in our commitment to follow due legal process against any person who perpetrates sexual or gender-based violence on another person, as soon as such a charge is laid.
The vision of the Department of Higher Education& Training and HEAIDS of a higher education system that is free of sexual and gender-based violence is far too important to be derailed by a small group of students, who clearly have their own specific agenda and issues to deal with. Our University will cooperate and collaborate with all local, provincial and national structures who are committed to confronting and addressing the scourge of sexual and gender-based violence.