Higher education dept worried about situation at Rhodes - Nzimande

2016-04-21 14:09
Students argue with Rhodes lecturers after police dispersed protesters using teargas and rubber bullets. (Supplied, Zindzi Nkunzi)

Students argue with Rhodes lecturers after police dispersed protesters using teargas and rubber bullets. (Supplied, Zindzi Nkunzi)

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Cape Town - The higher education department was worried about recent protests at Rhodes University and claims by students that rape allegations were not being handled properly, Higher Education Minister Blaze Nzimande said on Thursday.

"We are very concerned about this as a department. We have already been in touch with the university," Nzimande said at a media briefing ahead of his budget vote speech in Parliament on Thursday.

"This is a broader societal problem - the issue of sexual violence against women," he said.
The department of justice had also contacted his department to say they needed to be working together on the issue, Nzimande said.

"For example, some say that there should be a redefinition of rape. I thought there is already a legal definition. You can't have a special definition for universities. It must be the standard definition that is used as the country as a whole."

He said that, where necessary, the department of justice would explain the definition.

Some students at the university in Grahamstown started protesting on Sunday after the publication of a list of alleged rapists and sexual assaulters who work or study at Rhodes.

The #RUReferenceList was shared to the university's Facebook page.

Days later, activists staged a "naked protest" on campus. Police fired rubber bullets to disperse protesters.

Mitchell Parker, editor of Rhodes newspaper Activate, reported earlier this week that protesters' demands included a change to the definition of rape, to include those who are forced to penetrate another, as well as a change to the policy which requires that victims prove the perpetrators tried to rape them.

They also want those charged with rape to be suspended from residences, and the charges to be placed on their permanent academic records.

On Thursday, the Rhodes Student Representative Council said that the university had agreed to increase the number of staff in the Harassment Office who deal with cases of sexual abuse, and also set up a task team that would look into changing the institution’s current sexual harassment policy.

The university has acknowledged that rape survivors need more support and said a task team would look more broadly into issues of sexual violence on campus.

Read more on:    rhodes university  |  blade nzimande  |  east london  |  university protests

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