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Rape Culture on Campus: Two Students Brutally Assaulted at NMU Ignites Protest

Enough is enough and South African students are demanding institutions take their safety seriously

Trigger warning: this article contains descriptions of rape

South Africa is at constant odds with attempts of cultivating gender equality. The violence against women’s bodies, from the micro-aggressions of catcalling to the physical violence of assault, remains the biggest stain on our democracy.

The prevalence of sexual assault at South African campuses is devastating. The latest in a long list of cases across the country includes the violence against two young women, one of whom was stabbed and the other raped. Nelson Mandela University (NMU) has since seen students protest for safety on campus in the #NMUShutdown.

A statement from the NMU spokesperson, Zandile Mbabela, said ‘this incident again signifies the need for heightened security and police presence on all our campuses, particularly at night to ensure that our female students do not become victims of such heinous crimes.’

Another spokesperson, Kristhoff Adelbert, stated that ‘the municipality condemns the rape and stabbing of two women last night at the NMU campus… It’s really time now for the Minister of Police to start taking crime seriously in this country.’

University campuses are positioned as institutions of dedication to the pursuit of knowledge and excellence. Facilities are supposed to provide the necessary safety to pursue these values. The legacy of protest at South African universities proves otherwise, with rape culture permeating the already contentious system.

Rape culture on campus has a harrowing history. Last year at the University of Cape Town (UCT), serial rapist Partrick Hlomane was charged and convicted of 28 charges, including the rape of several women. This year, two suspended members of the SRC were cleared on charges of rape and sexual assault. Assault in residences that accommodate students remains an issue hidden under wraps. The Discrimination and Harassment Office (DISCHO) at UCT fails to address the capacity of assault on the campus.

Last year, 11 ‘alleged’ rapists on the #RUReferenceList from the University Currently Known as Rhodes (UCKR – a movement) were protected against dissent. The accused were hidden in a safe house.

The concerns of safety disrupt attempts at gaining an education. The majority of students rely on the labs and campus resources to complete their degrees. Survivors have to go through a gruelling system of reporting rape and assault – the very same system that fails thousands of South African women every single day.

Survivors of rape are often treated without sensitivity or justice. Victim-blamers and rape-apologists shoulder the weight of violence, discrimination and abuse on survivors.

Sayings like ‘innocent against proven guilty’ and ‘what were you doing alone/drinking alcohol/wearing a skirt/being a human being?’ are used as weapons against those seeking help and healing. You only have to scroll through the comments section of any content page (enter at your own risk) where rape is discussed and defenders of misogyny jump to dangerous conclusions.

It’s no wonder that the amount of unreported rape for both men and women distorts just how much rape culture affects the lives of students and citizens alike.

‘We must ask ourselves if we have the capacity, capability and expertise that are required to successfully prosecute a crime of rape’, said by Vice Chancellor of Rhodes University Sizwe Mabizela among the controversy of the #RUReferenceList last year.

It’s a burning question asked of universities and the broader judicial system of South Africa. Whilst the Minister of Police is poking fun on Twitter, we remain answering more questions than we get answers.

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