Trigger warning: This article discusses sexual violence, assault, abuse and rape.
Two Rhodes University* students have been banned for life. The reason for the expulsion? Protesting the pervasive culture of rape on Rhodes campus and the institution’s alleged failure to hold perpetrators accountable or keep survivors safe.
How the #RhodesWar started
The story starts with the #RUReferenceList (the anonymous list of suspected rapists at Rhodes released on social media) and spilled over with a granted interdict against activists. A wave of protests erupted at Rhodes in 2016. This included female students taking action after being silenced when going through the official channels of disciplinary action. Activists forcibly removed suspected perpetrators of sexual assault out of their res rooms.
These two activists were then found guilty of kidnapping, assault, defamation, and insubordination on 17 November. So begins the #RhodesWar
What’s more disturbing? The irony of Rhodes insisting their expulsion was a direct result of ‘serious inroads into the rights and liberties of others’ and cannot see how rape is exactly that? Or is it the fact that they don’t find serious allegations of rape more ‘unlawful’ than demanding accountability?
AT RHODES, IT'S MORE OF A CRIME TO PROTEST AGAINST RAPE THAN IT IS TO BE A RAPIST! #RhodesWar
— The Publicist (@ThePublicistSA) December 11, 2017
It’s all very disturbing indeed, especially when you realise that rape on this campus seems to be systemic and silenced just as systematically.
No justice for Yolanda Dyantyi and her co-accused
As a black woman studying at Rhodes I realized in order to be "safe" and not victimized I needed to stay silent,and realized that matters of injustice towards black bodies and females don't matter. Rhodes is a reflection of SA injustice in any case #RhodesWar
— Phumza Luthango (@PLuthango) December 12, 2017
Even more worrying is that one of the expelled activists, 20 year-old Humanities student Yolanda Dyantyi, says she was not given her right to testify despite attending her disciplinary hearings.
‘My co-accused, she got a chance to testify, got cross-examined and also cross-examined the evidence that has been brought against her,’ says Dyantyi.
‘But by the time it was my turn, the university just said that I didn’t want to testify. Which is absurd, why would I go to these hearings the entire six months [only to] not testify?’
When you string the narratives from social media together, it weaves a brutal story of gender-based violence. This is why the #RhodesWar exists.
‘Rhodes doesn’t care about black women’
Rhodes University hates women. It especially hates black, vocal, activist women. It hates the disruption of white and male power #RhodesWar
— Sid. (@ABGqomo) December 11, 2017
Dyantyi says she’s not backing down without a fight. She called the disciplinary action ‘grossly unfair’ and says she’s appealing the ruling in the Grahamstown high court.
‘They (Rhodes University) are proving our point; they are proving our point for the very reason that we took to the streets on that night,’
She goes on to describe Rhodes’ complicity in gender-based violence, especially against the marginsalised. ‘You know, Rhodes just doesn’t care about women, it doesn’t care about black women, it stands against rape culture and wanting to combat [rape culture],’ says Dyantyi.
After accepting defeat, I begged Mabizela to release my results, to just give me my degree.
Frames 1&2 are his response, 3&4 are SWORN AFFIDAVITS from my lecturers.
He lied! They collected all my scripts and destroyed them! pic.twitter.com/iUriJfEjOT
— #RhodesWar (@Nox_Mfocwa) December 11, 2017
The list goes on
I was gang raped on Rhodes university campus on April 7th, 2017
A whole entire counseling center manager wanted evidence
I have given up on the case, I mean, if a rapist gets a 10year ban and activists a life ban, what am I bound to get as a victim???
— #ART (@PreciousLesupi) December 12, 2017
Raped at Rhodes University 4th of August, 2017.
Reported my case and applied for extended Leave of Absence (and had to deregister) bcs I couldnt cope. They said they can only investigate once I reregister as a student in 2018.
I'm not going back. Forget it #RhodesWar
— Panda🐼 (@Zarbznguni) December 12, 2017
I was raped on 13 October 2017 at UCKAR. I have my case on going now but going back to campus in 2018 will be serious emotional strain i don’t think I can handle. I don’t have much hope for my case nor anyone else’s rn
— 𝙿𝚒𝚔𝚊 𝙱𝚘𝚘 🌙 (@mxdeepika) December 12, 2017
Rhodes responds to the outcry
Rhodes Exclusions a Result of Criminality, No Student Excluded for Protesting pic.twitter.com/C4JUzchhch
— Rhodes University (@Rhodes_Uni) December 12, 2017
Rhodes released a statement dismissing the claims that the students were expelled for protesting against the prevalence of rape culture on campus.
‘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,’ read the statement.
The university says it’s issuing a full inquiry into the allegations. ‘A comprehensive response in relation to all the issues raised will be issued as a matter of urgency. The issues were ventilated in processes involving the High Court, the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Constitutional Court.’
#RhodesWar is bigger than all of us
The censorship, brutality, and abuse of power is all too telling. Universities are meant to be safe, activist spaces. If we don’t have these institutions as mediators of real change, there’s a bigger problem than we realised.
The #RhodesWar is bigger than the expulsion. Institutions have the money, power, and influence to use intimidation and the disguise of the law to destabilise and demotivate movements.
This is why survivors of abuse and sexual violence do not come forward. Because their narratives are twisted to suit a broader agenda. Because they’re ultimately punished by society and the law for daring to disrupt the normalisation of violence against women.
South Africa is seeped in irony. This is a mere 3 days after the end of 16 Days of Activism. A sobering reminder that a little more than 2 weeks will never be enough to dismantle gender-based violence.
Stand up and fight
OMG💔😭Guys we need help. We need legal help. Political help. Rhodes must be taken to court. Can't post what is happening in detail because Black Womxn are being held at ransom. We need help. Please. 0766475312 please RT. Rhodes University is doing the most. We need help💔💔💔
— Babes Womzabalazo (@NalediChirwa) December 11, 2017
We need to fight for these women. We need to fight for all survivors of violence in all its forms. We need to hold perpetrators fully accountable. We need justice.
How you can help:
Joburg peeps, there's a picket tomorrow morning on Mandela Bridge regarding #RhodesWar avail yourselves if you can plz 9:30am ✊
— Mpondokazi (@YoliShade) December 14, 2017
— Mpondokazi (@YoliShade) December 14, 2017
- Keep a look out on social media for organised protests you can attend. If you’re not wanting to physically show support or can’t, try reaching out and donating where you can.
- The Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri) are handling Dyantyi’s case, see how you can get involved: 011 356 5860
Legal Aid Advice Line (Free)
- Call 0800 110 110 (toll-free) or the Please Call Me service through 079 835 7179
- Call their HQ: 011 642 4335
- Download the free POWA GBV app for Android or iOS to report abuse and find help centres near to you
TEARS Jo’burg: SMS *134*7355#
Rape Crisis Cape Town: Crisis Line 021 447 9762
*The University Currently Known as Rhodes is the decolonised and appropriate term for the institution in an attempt to reject the legacy of oppression and racism of Cecil John Rhodes.