Rhodes University protests threatened lives - VC

2016-05-09 15:33
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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East London - The vice chancellor of Rhodes University said they only approached the court to get an interdict against protesters when lives were threatened.

In a letter addressed to Alumni, Parents, Donors and Funders of Rhodes University, Dr Sizwe Mabizela explained the process that led to the institution approaching the court against students protesting a "rape culture" at the institution.

"The South African Police Services, which had been insistent that public roads crossing the campus should remain open, became involved when greater numbers of students refused to remove barricades that had been erected the previous night. Clashes between students and police ensued, with pepper spray being used and rubber bullets being fired to disperse the protesting students,” Mabizela said.

“The police involvement, the heightened levels of student-on-student intimidation in the residence system, threats on the life of a warden and increased levels of concern for the safety of all [there had, for example, been attempts by vehicles to break through the barricades while protesters and journalists were in their pathway], led us to seek an interim court interdict on Wednesday, 20 April 2016.”

Mabizela said the court interdict sought to remind everyone of the actions that broke the law, and was a decision that was not taken lightly.

“Given the levels of violence and the extent to which some students were prepared to take the law into their own hands, there was a real danger that a life could be lost or property damaged.

"The thought of having to face parents whose son or daughter would have died under the circumstances and because of our failure to take precautionary measures was too ghastly to contemplate,” he said.


Students started protesting after a list was released naming alleged rapists on campus. The violence and protests resulted in the academic activities being suspended.

Some students were also arrested.

"Our Harassment Office, Counselling Centre, and the Legal Resources Centre have assisted survivors who need support in laying charges or dealing with their trauma. We continue to emphasise that those who wish to protest peacefully and lawfully may do so, that this is their right under the Constitution of our land."

He maintained the interdict was not intended to silence or prevent any individual or group from raising concerns about sexual violence in our society and student body, and the very real difficulties faced by survivors in laying charges and securing justice.

"Rhodes University unequivocally rejects all forms of sexual violence, and any social or cultural practices that condone and promote such. We commit ourselves to be part of the fight against gender discrimination and sexual violence. We are resolved to improve the support we provide on campus for survivors of this type of violence and injustice, irrespective of whether the incident/s that victimised them took place on our campus or elsewhere, or prior to them becoming Rhodes students,” he added.

Mabizela said out of the list of demands, only one could not be agreed to. He said they could not agree to the demand that those named should be summarily dealt with, without an appropriate process that ensured that everyone’s constitutionally enshrined rights of being presumed innocent until proven guilty were upheld.

“The Legal Resources Centre has advised me that four students have approached the Centre to date to report cases of rape/sexual assault and provide statements. Of the four, one relates to an incident that happened in 2011 and that neither the complainant nor the alleged perpetrator was a student at Rhodes University anymore.

"The other is of a student who had originally laid a complaint in 2013 and had been advised by the prosecutors that 'the case will not be heard' and did not receive a reason for the decision. She was interested in having the case reopened and reconsidered. The other two complainants were new,” he said. 

Read more on:    rhodes university  |  east london  |  education  |  protests

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