UPDATE | UCT SRC wants vice-chancellor Phakeng to retract tweet dismissing student's rape claim

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University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng.
University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng.
Esa Alexander, Gallo Images, Sunday Times
  • UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng has been accused of being insensitive to a student who tweeted about an alleged rape perpetrated by a university professor. 
  • The student tweeted on Wednesday that the university had failed to suspend or act against the alleged perpetrator. 
  • The university said a probe was underway. 

The UCT SRC has called on vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng to retract "distasteful sentiments" in response to a tweet by a student who claimed to have been raped on campus, allegedly by a professor at the institution.

Phakeng drew sharp criticism from social media users when she questioned the alleged victim's motives by tweeting, "she must say what her real agenda is".

SRC secretary-general Cathy Mthenjane said the student body was disgruntled by Phakeng's response.

"It is through such victim-blaming and intimidating responses that gender-based violence in the institution is a hotspot. We shall continue to address and fight against the broader South African systematic issue of gender-based violence," said Mthenjane.

Phakeng's tweet sparked outrage online, with some questioning if it was really Phakeng responding, while others wanted to know if she was drunk. Many lambasted her for what they considered an insensitive choice of words when responding to the student.

Phakeng, in a tweet, claimed the allegation had been dragging on for years.

The student, whose Twitter handle is RAPED@UCT, posted the claims on Wednesday afternoon.

"I reported thus [sic] to UCT and for months they failed to act/suspend rapist. UCT has instructed me to not report the matter and keep it 'internal'. I received threats from rapist. I'm in witness protection [sic]," the tweet said. 

In a statement, UCT said it "noted with concern an alleged sexual assault incident raised through a series of anonymous tweets".

"Although no specific details have been provided, the university reasonably understands from some of the information shared through the tweets that this is in relation to an ongoing matter being jointly addressed by specific departments in government, in collaboration with UCT," it said. 

The alleged perpetrator is employed jointly by the Western Cape heath department and UCT, the university added.

Police spokesperson Captain Frederick van Wyk confirmed that Cape Town SAPS' Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit was investigating a sexual assault case. No arrests had been made.

The Western Cape health department was also conducting an investigation, it said in a joint statement with UCT. The university said this process "must be allowed to conclude".

The statement read:

UCT is not at liberty to discuss this further in the pubic domain, but can state that the matter is being dealt with and reviewed by relevant and appropriate investigation panels.

The university added that the student had been offered support, but had declined it.

News24 spoke to the student who had made the allegations. She asked to remain anonymous, but stood by the allegations.

UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola  said the university would not comment any further. 

News24 asked Moholola detailed questions about Phakeng’s tweet and the potential impact it could have in a country blighted by the scourge rape. He declined to respond to any of the questions.

These are the questions News24 asked UCT:

  1. Can you confirm that this is indeed the Vice-Chancellor's account and that this tweet emanates from her account?
  2. Is the VC tweeting in her personal capacity?
  3. The tweet and its perceived tone seems to be at odds with the messaging and tone of UCT's official response to a rape allegation. What is UCT's response to the VC's tweet and its message? Do you support the VC's stance that the student has an "agenda"?
  4. Why does Prof Phakeng believe the student has a "real agenda"? Is it solely on the basis of her refusing assistance from the university?
  5. In a country blighted by violence against women, including the scourge of rape, what is UCT's stance on supporting rape victims?
  6. What is the institution's policy and stance on handling rape cases?
  7. Does UCT believe the messaging from Prof Phakeng, a prominent public figure who occupies a powerful and prominent office, is reckless and potentially damaging to the efforts of rape victims to speak and seek support without being discriminated?
  8. Does UCT believe the tweet weakens its ability to adequately & effectively handle rape cases within the university? Does it potentially weaken the perception of UCT to handle rape cases in the eyes of its students and staff?

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