#RhodesWar: Women need to reclaim their bodies

A student during a solidarity protest against rape culture at Wits University. Picture: Ndileka Lujabe
A student during a solidarity protest against rape culture at Wits University. Picture: Ndileka Lujabe

Former Rhodes University student Yolanda Dyantyi says that women need to reclaim their bodies if they are to fight the “war” of rape culture.

“Gender-based violence is something that faces us on a daily basis on our campuses. We’re not safe.

Many of us have faced and are survivors of rape, are victims of sexual assault and it’s not easy.

“Black women need to stand up and take a stand against the scourges of rape and rape culture on their campuses,” Dyantyi said.

She was speaking at Wits University on Wednesday following a demonstration that was in solidarity with the students who were excluded from Rhodes University in 2017.

Dyantyi, 21, was expelled for life from the institution, together with four other female students, in relation to the wave of #RUReferenceList protests against rape culture on the campus in 2016.

Rhodes University’s disciplinary committee found them guilty of kidnapping, assault, defamation and insubordination to the vice chancellor.

“The interesting thing about our proceedings is that it wasn’t the men [the alleged rapists] themselves who opened the case, it was the university. The men took part as witnesses, not as complainants.

“I got excluded without being afforded the chance to take the stand and go on trial to counter the university’s evidence,” she says.

Dyantyi says the university apparently excluded her because she waived her prerogative to testify.

“On the days that they set for my legal team to come and lead evidence, my legal team was not in the country and not available at the time. We wrote to the proctor and the Rhodes lawyers, and they decided to go ahead with the judgment in my absence.

“I am denying the fact that I kidnapped anyone and the law doesn’t say that I kidnapped anyone. “Secondly, I was not arrested and don’t have criminal charges so I don’t understand where they are getting this narrative,” Dyantyi said.

Dyantyi and the other students were represented by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI).

Rhodes University maintained that their expulsion was not related to the protest action, but to “unlawful acts” which “made serious inroads into the rights and liberties of others”.

In a statement released in December last year, the university said it was concerned about the “misrepresentations of facts and cynical attempts at manipulating public opinion”.

“There is a clear distinction between vigorously pursuing our common objective of eliminating sexual and gender-based violence on the one hand and using such a noble cause as a cover to commit acts of criminality, which serve to undermine a noble struggle,” the statement read.

Dyantyi found out that she was excluded from the university two days before her final exam, which would’ve seen her graduate had she been allowed to write.

“I’m hoping with this campaign [that] universities across the country can stand to protect women,” she said.

Dyantyi added that SERI is still handling the matter and will be proceeding with it to another court.

“We are taking Rhodes to the High Court and filing an application for review. I’m found guilty of something that I wasn’t tested and tried. It is quite unjust and unlawful.”

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