Police fires against students' anti-rape protest

"Are you sure you still want to go through with this?" a management at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, told a female student who wanted to report a rape. “You’ll ruin his reputation.”

Sikhona Songeziwe Nazo, vice chair person at Gender Action Project, recognizes the comments on the posters posted on 11 April around the Grahamtown campus as a part of a rape awareness campaign under the name #Chapter212, a reference to the chapter of the South African Constitution regarding safety and dignity of the student body. 

“Rhodes Management told me this when I reported my rape”, Nazo tweeted. She was forced to continue to attend classes with her rapist as no charges were taken despite that the university states on its site that it “condemns rape and sexual violence and seeks to provide a consistent, caring, and timely response when sexual assaults occur within the University community.”

The Campus Protection Unit (CPU) removed the posters the following day but students continued to repost them. Rhodes University has suspended classes for the rest of this week due to protests from students.

Five arrested 

The somehow peaceful demonstration turned violent on Wednesday when police fired rubber bullets to disperse hundreds of students protesting. According to Reuters, the police also used stun grenades and pepper spray to disperse the protesters. 

Police captain Mali Govender said the crowd of protesters were becoming aggressive and preventing staff members from leaving the premises. “The roads were blocked off (by) furniture, brooms, sticks and stones.” 

Demonstrators had barricaded a university entrance yesterday, calling for some form of action to be taken against the alleged perpetrators. Two female, amongst five arrested students, face charges related to the Regulation of Gatherings Act.

Student activist Gorata Chengeta finds the situation frustrating. “What’s going to happen to people who are already being aggrieved? The sentiment that I’m getting from people is that we can’t really move forward because we don’t feel like management has really taken into account the gravity of the situation.” 

Rape list

Nadim Nyker, a student at Rhodes, told IBTimes UK that they had been “protesting for three days and the protests have been very hearty and peaceful. People had hands in the air and were silently protesting but a bakkie [pick-up truck] came out of nowhere and police shot at us with rubber bullets. We don't know if the university authorized the police to come on board. We are telling the police to stop.”

The protests sparked on Sunday when a list with the names of eleven alleged perpetrators of sexual offenses was anonymously leaked to the non longer available Facebook group RU Queer Confessions, Questions and Crushes. The post was also shared to the Rhodes University SRC Facebook Page. Following the release of the “reference list”, which has gone viral under the hashtag #RUreferencelist, angry students marched to various residences where some of the alleged rapists lived, demanding the suspects to come out. A few alleged rapists were held by the group.

Nyker said that the list “sparked major protests because people wanted justice. But a lot of students took justice into their own hands and went to the residence of these guys accused of raping girls.”

Topless protest

The protest went viral when hundreds of half naked protested in the streets to emphasize that a women’s naked body was not an invitation or reason to sexually assault her. Images of the topless protesters filled social media, with many endorsing the protesters choice of undressing in public.

Further actions

Sian Ferguson, a student organizer in #Chapter212 and current chair of the Gender Action Project at Rhodes University said that the main concerns are “the sexual assault policy which has been under review for over a year. The policy is problematic as it excludes victims who have been forced to penetrate their perpetrators in its definition of rape. It also puts the onus on the victim to prove their perpetrator intended to rape them.” 

Another student, also a rape victim, told Eye Witness News about her experience with the university’s sexual violence policies.  “I’ve recently put through a sexual harassment charge and just seeing how much of a mission it was to actually do something about it. He is the one in the wrong and I’m the one who has to go through a lot of effort to do something about it.”

“People are getting raped because they don't pray enough”

The university' vice-chancellor called on students who have been allegedly raped by people whose names appear on the rape list,  to report the matter to the university so that “prosecution can be expedited” A task team has also been initiated to look into how the University can, to look into ways that the “strengthen its responsiveness to cases of sexual harassment or violence.”

Nyker describes the situation as very complex. “We are protesting against rape impunity, rape culture and institutionalized rape. Lots of lecturers have made comments on rape that are way out of line. One, for example, said people are getting raped because they don't pray enough. This is ridiculous.”

South Africa recorded 43,195 incidents of rape in 2015—the highest in the world—but the figures could be an underestimate due to hidden statistics.

#RUreferencelist  #RhodesShutdown #NakedProtest 


Text by...

Sumbu Temo

27 years old journalist student and dreamer from Stockholm