Rhodes University has come under fire following the permanent expulsion of two women students who were involved in anti-rape protests at the campus in Grahamstown last year.
This punishment, related to charges of kidnapping and assault, has been especially criticised in light of a convicted rapist at the university being excluded earlier this year for only 10 years.
Rhodes spokeswoman Veliswa Mhlope confirmed yesterday that the two women students had been permanently excluded from the university after being found guilty by an independent panel.
Mhlope emphasised that the expulsions were not a result of the students’ participation in the protests or the publication of a list of alleged rapists at the university.
“While the two students did indeed take part in the protest, their participation had nothing to do with the charges or with their exclusion,” she said.
“The two female students were found guilty of committing common-law crimes against their fellow students, including kidnapping and assault.”
Mhlope said the verdict followed the meticulous analysis of evidence.
She was unable to say whether the university had laid criminal complaints with the police against the students.
Nomzamo Zondo, the director of litigation at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI) and legal representative for one of the expelled students, Yolanda Dyantyi, said Dyantyi had never been criminally charged for kidnapping or assault.
“As far as I know, nobody laid any such charges,” Zondo said. “She [Dyantyi] was once asked to appear at a police station because someone had filed a complaint of crimen injuria.
“I [visited] the police station with her and we wrote a statement.
“The investigating officer advised us that [Dyantyi] would be summoned if they intended to charge her, but she never contacted us again.”
Police spokeswoman Captain Mali Govender was also unable to say if a criminal complaint had been made.
Dyantyi posted on Twitter that she had been “charged on criminal offences that the courts didn’t find [her] guilty of”.
This was in reference to an interdict granted by the high court in the wake of the protests, preventing Dyantyi and two other students from disruptive behaviour, including assault and intimidation, on campus.
Dyantyi will be returning to the high court, this time to submit an application to review and set aside the university’s decision.
According to Zondo, Dyantyi was convicted in absentia by the panel.
“When the time came for the disciplinary inquiry to hear [her] evidence, the chairperson postponed the inquiry to a date on which he knew none of [her] legal representatives could attend because they had competing commitments in court,” Zondo said.
“Dyantyi did not attend the inquiry because she could not do so with the assistance of her representatives.”
Zondo said all Dyantyi’s most recent examinations were also invalidated.
Her academic record was endorsed with the words: “Unsatisfactory Conduct: Student found guilty of assault, kidnapping, insubordination and defamation.”
Zondo said: “As far as SERI has been able to ascertain, this is the harshest penalty the university has imposed for 10 years for any offence, including rape and sexual violence on campus.
“The transcript [record] will effectively prevent Dyantyi from registering elsewhere.”
Mhlope said two men students had been excluded for rape this year on a permanent basis, and that the university had argued for a harsher sentence against the student expelled in May who was excluded for only 10 years.
However, former student and SRC member Naledi Mashishi said the question remained whether it was just to punish Dyantyi as heavily as the rapists against whom she was protesting.
“They’ve effectively destroyed her future,” Mashishi said.
“Either way you look at it, the punishment isn’t proportionate.”
Mashishi criticised Rhodes for not doing enough to combat the rape culture on campus.
“I know from my own experience in the SRC that there were quite a number of cases that Rhodes had [allegedly] been very slow to act on in relation to sexual assault, which is why we started the protest in the first place.
“The task team [created to investigate sexual assault cases] only [came] after the protests.
“I don’t think they’ve taken the proper steps to fight rape culture.”
The decision to expel the two women students permanently sparked an outcry on Twitter yesterday, with many users protesting as part of the #RhodesWar campaign.
“So this is what is happening at Rhodes: women are being raped; they protest about rape; they get expelled,” Brandon Ntuli wrote. “This is inhumane.” Another user posted that she had been gang-raped on campus earlier this year, but lacked confidence in the university’s ability to bring her rapists to justice.
“I have given up on the case. I mean if a rapist gets a 10-year ban and activists a life ban, what am I bound to get as a victim?”
Even Deputy Higher Education Minister Buti Manamela joined the conversation.
“I’m made aware of the expulsion of students who protested against rape by Rhodes University,” Manamela posted on his Twitter page.
“I’ve asked for a full report.”