EDITORIAL | A silent protest that spoke volumes
On Friday, three young women stood in front of the stage at the graduation ceremony at Nelson Mandela University.
Dressed in black, with taped mouths, they silently brandished posters with evocative messages about rape and sexual abuse.
One poster read, “Congratulations, my rapist is graduating”. Even in its silence, it was the most powerful message yet sent by students against the culture of rape and gender-based violence at the university.
A fourth student was to join the protest.
But she could not stand to watch a man who had allegedly raped her walk across the stage to be capped, applauded by friends and family.
There are several things to be said about the protest, its bravery and impact.
Most important is whether indeed their message was mindfully received by the university and how much the institution is committed to dealing with such violence on young women in particular.
On paper, the institution has in place structures to deal with gender-based violence.
But the effectiveness of such structures to respond urgently and meaningfully to the needs of those who are violated is questionable.
This protest must be seen by the university as another opportunity to properly examine its anti-violence strategy as well as to strengthen its capacity and will to protect and assist students who are most vulnerable.
The investigation of such cases must go beyond institutional machinations.
These are crimes which must be investigated and dealt with by our criminal justice system.
Further, the university has a responsibility to ensure that victims are not subjected to secondary violation by sharing spaces with their perpetrators.
Friday’s silent protest is a powerful reminder that there can be no appearance of normality in the presence of injustice.