Pictures of male UP residence students holding up derogatory sexist posters during performances by female residence students were posted on Facebook by Perdeby photographer Fezikile Msimanga on his Facebook page “Fez the Photographer”. The images show students holding up posters with captions such as “Nice thigh gap, can I fill it?”, “I’m not Asian but I’ll eat your cat”, “Spit or swallow?” and “Show us your tits”.
The HK of one ladies residence who preferred to remain anonymous said “It is not about a sign. It is about the principle behind it. It is the principle of degrading a womxn, a womxn you don’t even know, to being nothing more than a sexual object which you want to “suck” and “lick” (sic).” According to the student, the problem also regarded the normalising of the idea that such remarks can be made in the name of humour. “While yes, some of the appropriate signs were humerous, witty and entertaining – I struggle to see even a glimmer of humor in a sign saying “I have a better use for that mouth” and “I’d like you more if you were quiet,”” added the HK.
Another student from Asterhof residence who also preferred to remain anonymous said she had seen female residence students make similar remarks towards male residence students however adding that “I do feel like the guy reses really take it a step further and take your dignity away completely.”
According to a HK member from Boekenhout, the fact that female residence students also made similar remarks during Serrie prelims did not create a right for the promotion of rape culture. The member added that Boekenhout residence had informed their students before the prelims that no offensive remarks may be made. “I saw there was one picture from one of the Boekenhout guys that said something about a Giraffe but I mean which was also not right,” he said.
According to Richard Hay, the Well Being HK of a men’s residence, the cancellation of Serrie was seen by a lot of people as a “quick cover up” by the university instead of addressing the real issue. “Unless they [UP] actually engage and sit down and we embark on some level of discourse to explain why these signs are so problematic to people who don’t seen them as problematic, nothing is actually going to change,” said Hay. He added that UP was not willing to sit down and meaningfully engage with students on student issues and particularly issues within TuksRes. Hay adds that the men’s serenading was problematic but that he had noticed in recent years that female serenades were becoming more “hands on”, adding that there were problematic practices with female serenading of male serrie prelims too. He added that TuksRes has a great deal to change within residence culture and that this change could only be promoted by mutual dialogue.
UP issued an official statement on social media, saying “We are aware of an incident where male students displayed offensive posters during a singing competition. The University is looking into the matter and will not hesitate to act against anyone found guilty of offensive behaviour against women. The University condemns any behaviour that is harmful to women.”
Students also took to social media expressing their unhappiness at the cancellation of the event.
UP released a statement this morning welcoming TuksRes Sub-Council’s decision to cancel the Serrie finals, commending them on the swift action taken in condemning the “behaviour of a few students during a Serrie event on Tuesday evening.” It explained that “This will send a clear message that derogatory and offensive behaviour against women will not be tolerated as it does not form part of the University’s values. Appropriate steps will be taken against those found guilty. We look forward to working with students to create greater awareness around the different forms of abuse.”
On 17 May, UP’s Residence Sub-Council released their own statement addressing the incident which took place at the Serrie prelims on 16 May. The statement said that there had been an immediate request that the individuals involved in the incident be identified and the necessary disciplinary steps be taken against them. “Sub-Council has worked closely with the management of the Department: Residence Affairs and Accommodation in identifying these individuals, and reports are submitted to the University of Pretoria’s Legal Services for further and appropriate steps,” the statement explained.
It further added that the Sub-Council collectively took the decision to withdraw all its residences from the Serrie finals which were scheduled to take place on 20 May. “This will be a clear indication that our residences will not be a part of any activity/event that promotes or perpetuates abuse or discrimination against an individual.”
With additional reporting by Michal-Maré Linden.