Varsity also welcomes failure of appeal by three others against interdict over gender protest
While Rhodes University has welcomed the Constitutional Court ruling dismissing an appeal by three students against an interdict over their role in gender-based violent protests, it also announced it had “excluded” – or removed – three male students for rape.
Last year, Rhodes witnessed nearly two months of student protests calling for institutional change in how cases of sexual assault and rape were handled.
The protests, which in some instances turned violent, stemmed from a list of alleged rapists which went viral and led to the kidnapping and assault of two male students named on the list.
A former Rhodes SRC activism and transformation councillor who was also part of the protests last year, Naledi Mashishi, 22, welcomed the expulsion of the three male students on grounds of rape, but said not much had changed with regard to how the institution handled cases of sexual assault and rape.
“I don’t think there has been a significant change in the culture of the university, especially in cases of gender-based violence,” she said.
“Telling a girl to be more vigilant is not addressing the issue.
“People need to be educated on these matters and significant change has to happen.”
A third-year Rhodes student, who asked not to be named, said she found the court ruling to uphold the interdict unfair as students who voiced their concerns and tried to do something were punished while sexual predators “still roam around on campus”.
“Nothing has really changed on campus, a lot of cases are still being reported and very little gets done about it,” she said.
“It’s a very long process to report sexual assault to the university, so much so that a lot of victims are going directly to the police instead of dealing with the matter internally.”
She said the three male students who had been “excluded” – one for 10 years and two permanently – were merely a drop in the ocean.
“That is three out of hundreds of cases. We still have to work with sexual predators on campus – we walk the same paths through campus with them, we have to eat with them and see them every day.
“It is uncomfortable and a terrible experience,” she said.
Another student, who also asked not to be identified, said excluding students for rape was not enough, and perpetrators should be named and shamed and have a permanent record.
Considered as the leaders of the protests, three students had an interdict levelled against them which the Grahamstown High Court granted in December.
The three approached both the high court and the Supreme Court of Appeal to have the interdict overturned and when that failed they approached the Constitutional Court.
The interdict followed their involvement and participation in protests against gender-based violence which the court found had made serious inroads into the rights and liberties of others.
The high court found that the protests had led in some instances to unlawful conduct that included damage to, and destruction of, university property, the erection of barricades at the entrance to the university, kidnapping and assault as well as the disruption of classes.
In their approach to the Constitutional Court, the students sought to challenge the basis on which the lower court concluded the matter.
Justice Narandran Kollapen said the court had considered the role played by each of the applicants in the events and also carefully explored and dealt with the actual conduct that was attributed to each of the three students in relation to the protests.
Rhodes vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela welcomed the judgment, saying everyone had the right to freedom of expression, to assemble peacefully and unarmed to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions as per the constitution, but cautioned that other people’s rights should not be infringed upon.
“What we cannot protect and what the law does not protect, however, is unlawful conduct and the undermining of the rights and liberties of others,” he said.
“It is extremely unfortunate when illegality is committed in the name of a necessary and important campaign against gender-based violence.”
Mabizela said Rhodes was resolute in its commitment to eradicate all forms of gender-based violence within the institution, and to contribute to efforts in dealing with the scourge in society.