Rhodes rages af­ter sui­cide

Has the uni­ver­sity, rocked by protests in 2016, done enough to ad­dress gen­der vi­o­lence?

Mail & Guardian - - News - Sarah Smit

It rained in Makhanda on Tues­day morn­ing but still hun­dreds of stu­dents, staff and lec­tur­ers made the solemn march to the Set­tlers’ Mon­u­ment, where Rhodes Uni­ver­sity holds its grad­u­a­tion cer­e­monies. Khen­sani Maseko would have been capped there next year. It would have been a happy af­fair.

Tues­day was any­thing but happy. Anger turned into re­flec­tive mourn­ing; it was what stu­dents de­scribed as a “heavy” day.

News of her death hit Rhodes Uni­ver­sity’s ac­tive so­cial me­dia pages over the week­end.

Maseko (23) died of sui­cide at her home in Al­ber­ton last Fri­day, four days af­ter re­port­ing to the uni­ver­sity that she had been raped by her ex-boyfriend.

The uni­ver­sity com­mu­nity said they are dis­il­lu­sioned with how Rhodes has ad­dressed sex­ual vi­o­lence but the in­sti­tu­tion says an elab­o­rate sys­tem has been im­ple­mented to counter it.

In an In­sta­gram post on Fri­day, Maseko had posted her date of birth, 24.07.1995, and the date of the post, 3.08.2018, with the cap­tion: “No one de­serves to be raped.”

Her fu­neral was held in Jo­han­nes­burg on Thurs­day, Women’s Day.

Her fam­ily, who trav­elled from Jo­han­nes­burg to the uni­ver­sity af­ter she re­ported the rape and then re­turned home with her, also al­luded to the in­ci­dent in their state­ment.

“We would like to ex­plic­itly ex­press that we con­demn, in the strong­est pos­si­ble terms, any form of vi­o­lence and abuse against women and more par­tic­u­larly rape against women.”

A third-year stu­dent, re­fer­ring to the pub­li­ca­tion in 2016 of a list of 11 al­leged sex­ual of­fend­ers on so­cial me­dia and the wave of stu­dent protests that fol­lowed, said: “When the news of her [Maseko’s] death came out, the at­mos­phere quickly be­came very sim­i­lar to how it was dur­ing #RURef­er­enceList in 2016.”

On the night of April 17 that year, a group of stu­dents banged on doors in male res­i­dences in search of the men named. Stu­dents wanted the uni­ver­sity’s man­age­ment to ex­pel them. Three men were forced from their rooms and were held by the group.

The uni­ver­sity ap­plied for, and was granted, an in­ter­dict against those “en­gag­ing in un­law­ful ac­tiv­i­ties” and those “as­so­ci­at­ing them­selves” with such ac­tiv­i­ties. In 2017, the uni­ver­sity ex­pelled two of the pro­test­ers af­ter an in­ter­nal dis­ci­plinary process.

The uni­ver­sity said the stu­dents were not ex­cluded for par­tic­i­pat­ing in the protest but for the com­mon-law crimes of kid­nap and as­sault. None of the men who were re­moved from their res­i­dences af­ter be­ing named on the ref­er­ence list was sub­se­quently found guilty of sex­ual mis­con­duct by the uni­ver­sity.

On Mon­day, the 2016 in­ter­dict and sub­se­quent ex­pul­sions loomed over the stu­dents’ ac­tions. They were wary of protest­ing, but when they dis­cov­ered that the in­ter­dict had ex­pired they re­solved to shut down the uni­ver­sity.

“Peo­ple were an­gry. They wanted a form of jus­tice and the man who com­mit­ted the crime to be taken out of the uni­ver­sity — some kind of ac­count­abil­ity,” said the third-year stu­dent, who asked not to be named.

Uni­ver­sity man­age­ment sus­pended lec­tures on Mon­day and Tues­day “to al­low the uni­ver­sity com­mu­nity time to mourn and to pro­vide coun­selling and other in­ter­ven­tions”.

“We as a so­ci­ety have failed her [Maseko] in that we have not brought up young men who know how to love, re­spect and treat women,” Rhodes vice-chan­cel­lor Sizwe Mabizela said at Tues­day’s march.

He called on every­one to view Maseko’s death as “a sig­nif­i­cant turn­ing point” and for the uni­ver­sity and so­ci­ety to re­dou­ble its ef­forts to “erad­i­cate the scourge of sex­ual and gen­der­based vi­o­lence in our so­ci­ety”.

The uni­ver­sity later an­nounced that its man­age­ment was work­ing with the po­lice and the Na­tional Prose­cut­ing Au­thor­ity to push for an in­quest into Maseko’s death.

The uni­ver­sity also an­nounced that it had sus­pended Maseko’s al­leged rapist on Mon­day morn­ing.

But the stu­dent de­scribed the uni­ver­sity’s ef­forts in the af­ter­math of Maseko’s death as “disin­gen­u­ous” and said the man­age­ment was try­ing to save face af­ter fail­ing to make mean­ing­ful changes to its poli­cies af­ter #RURef­er­enceList.

In a re­port on gen­der trans­for­ma­tion at uni­ver­si­ties for 2015-2016, the Com­mis­sion for Gen­der Equal­ity ques­tioned why, de­spite all the poli­cies Rhodes has in place, things seemed not to have changed, par­tic­u­larly with re­gard to gen­der-based vi­o­lence on cam­pus.

Rhodes was in­cluded in the study be­cause of the highly pub­li­cised 2016 protests.

Rhodes stu­dent rep­re­sen­ta­tive coun­cil pres­i­dent Nh­laka­nipho Mahlangu said she was not sure what the uni­ver­sity had achieved with its sex­ual as­sault pol­icy since then.

“What I do know is that the same feel­ings that sur­rounded the 2016 protests still ex­ist among the stu­dent body, that feel­ing of not be­ing safe.

“That alone is a fail­ure on the part of uni­ver­sity man­age­ment and per­haps even of stu­dent lead­er­ship.”

Mahlangu said some of the con­ver­sa­tions or­gan­ised on cam­pus this week had fo­cused on how the stu­dent body needed to keep hold­ing the uni­ver­sity man­age­ment to ac­count on pol­icy rec­om­men­da­tions.

A task team com­pris­ing stu­dents and staff, set up in 2016, made 93 rec­om­men­da­tions on the uni­ver­sity’s sex­ual as­sault poli­cies.

How­ever, a for­mer Rhodes stu­dent who was closely linked to the #RURef­er­enceList protests said that, al­though the uni­ver­sity man­age­ment had said it was im­ple­ment­ing the rec­om­men­da­tions, it had never pub­licly spec­i­fied which of the rec­om­men­da­tions or how they were be­ing im­ple­mented.

“Even if they have done what they have promised, they have never been open about the changes they have made,” said the for­mer stu­dent, who asked not to be named.

Rhodes spokesper­son Veliswa Mh­lope said one of the rec­om­men­da­tions that had been put in place was to re­view the uni­ver­sity’s sex­ual ha­rass­ment pol­icy and for an im­me­di­ate “no con­tact” or­der to be is­sued to al­leged per­pe­tra­tors.

She did not say whether the other 92 rec­om­men­da­tions had been or were be­ing im­ple­mented.

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