Editorial: Rhodes dilemma over student bans

While episodes of turmoil and tension have been witnessed on university campuses since last year – triggered mainly by demands for free education and disquiet at colonial relics – Rhodes has found itself at the centre of an altogether separate murky and disturbing maelstrom.

There has been a groundswell of emotive rhetoric over rape culture and consequent gender-based protests at the institution which underscores a seemingly widespread sentiment that sexual assault is underplayed.

With the Constitutional Court last month dismissing an appeal by three students against an interdict over their role in the protests, it followed that the ire of those insisting on better protection would be ignited.

South African society is riddled with rape attacks on women and children – at times the levels of depravity and viciousness are incomprehensible.

And no less affected is Rhodes which last month announced it had removed three male students for rape. But here is the problem. Two were excluded for life and one for 10 years.

The university says it strenuously – but unsuccessfully – argued, presumably to the presiding independent panel, for a harsher sentence in the latter case.

However, the permanent expulsion of two female students for their involvement in kidnapping and assault on two male students in the wake of the rape culture protests suggests equal – and given the one 10-year ban – even harsher retribution.

An uncomfortable comparison has been created and raised questions over sanctions matching the crime.

Rhodes vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela has said it is extremely unfortunate when illegal acts are committed in the name of an important campaign and he’s absolutely right.

But placing everyone in the same convicted

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