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.’
NMU did nothing for me. Let's hope and pray they'll do something for these girls. This is so bad. The emotional impact on them💔
— Thandi (@ThandiNtsabo) October 3, 2017
My friend was raped at NMMU last week. She opened a case, and it was closed TWICE coz apparently "it won't hold up in court" #NMUshutdown
— scrumptious🍒 (@Ontee__M) October 3, 2017
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.
SA deals with its rape culture as Americans do with gun violence, we pretend like its not real until another public rape case #NMUshutdown
— wokeproject (@Justjozi) October 4, 2017
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.
The 2 SRC members who were charged with sexual misconduct and rape have been reinstated uncharged. UCT for you.
— Remmo's Scissor (@mandisza_) August 18, 2017
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.
— Black (@_PalesaNkone_) October 3, 2017
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.