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#RhodesWar: 'We’re Not Going Down Without A Fight'

When you string the narratives from social media together, it weaves a brutal story of gender-based violence.

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?

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

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’

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.

The list goes on

Rhodes responds to the outcry

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

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:

  • 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
  • Legal-aid.co.za

POWA

  • 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.

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