Susanna Anbu, Kayla Thomas and Sam Mukwamu
At approximately 22:00 on 2 September students began protesting outside Apartments on William (AOW) and calling for an alleged sexual assault perpetrator to be arrested. The protest spread to Studios@Burnett where a different alleged perpetrator was taken into custody at approximately 01:30 on 3 September. This followed outrage on Twitter after the confirmed rape and murder of UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana prompted students to share their experiences of sexual assault and name suspected perpetrators on Twitter.
The release of the statement confirming the apprehension of a 41-year old man responsible for Mrwetyana’s rape and murder became the impetus for the manhunt on the streets of Hatfield. The release of the statement was then followed by a series of tweets that were used to call out alleged sexual assault perpetrators amidst UP students. Using the tweets as basis, students set out on a manhunt in search of the alleged perpetrators. Multiple accounts have gained a following in posting the names and pictures of alleged sexual assault perpetrators.
In light Mrwetyana’s disappearance in Cape Town, a manhunt was set in motion in the later hours of 2 September around Hatfield campus. Students started their march at Apartments on William, which was confirmed by Dintho-Tsowe Khoarai, one of the students present at the protest at AOW. Afterwards, the mob gained momentum and progressed onto Burnett Street in front of Studios@Burnett. At both locations, the students chanted the names of the alleged sexual assault perpetrators but no contact was made between students and the alleged perpetrators.
“Using the tweets as basis, students set out on a manhunt in search of the alleged perpetrators.”
Once students began moving away from AOW, word had reached surrounding residences that the students were making their way towards Burnett Street. The house mother at Hatfield studios, Nerene Grobler, stated that initially it was thought they were heading in the direction of Hatfield Studios but the students ended up making their way to the Studios@Burnett. Oageng Molefe, an actuarial sciences student staying at Studios@Burnett, explained that at 22:00 on 2 September the house mother dismissed the students’ allegations as rumors in the form of mass message that she sent to all the floor groups chats. The house mother did not respond to PDBY’s attempts of contact for comment.
When students protested outside Studios@Burnett, the alleged perpetrator was not on the scene. However, Lwethu Mgqaliso, studying Industrial Engineering at UP who is also a resident of Studios@Burnett, alleged that “security showed up to his room and escorted him out”. While seated at one of the cubicles at reception, Mgqaliso stated that he saw security personnel escort the alleged perpetrator past the turnstiles and through the door that led to the basement parking. Sando Mkhwanazi, a student who was locked inside the building when the glass door shut at reception, also witnessed the suspect being escorted to the parking area by security personnel and the house mother at approximately 23:40.
The protesting students were said to have arrived in front of Studios@Burnett around 00:00 on 3 September. In speaking about the protection that Studios@Burnett gave the alleged suspect, an anonymous source who also stays at Studios@Burnett told PDBY that “they wanted [him] to come out but for various reasons he couldn’t come out, Studios@Burnett has to protect him. The police officers took him eventually”.
In order for the South African Police Service (SAPS) to take the alleged perpetrator into custody an open case was necessary. According to the statement released by Captain Colette Weilbach, a case was opened and the victim was allegedly raped in September 2018 by a friend who was staying in the same building. Kwazikwenkosi Biyela spoke to PDBY and confirmed that she opened a case regarding one of the alleged perpetrators and that a suspect was taken into custody. This was confirmed by the media statement released by SAPS. Biyela tweeted about her alleged encounter at 21:07 on 2 September which sparked a high level of responses from other students on Twitter. Biyela cites Mrwetyana’s rape and murder as what triggered her to share her experience. According to her statement given to PDBY, she went to the Brooklyn Police station at 19:00 and stayed there until 21:30, after which she was taken to Steve Biko Hospital. Biyela arrived at the scene of the students protesting at approximately 1:30. Upon their arrival, Biyela claims to have had a group of girls approach her claiming to have had similar experiences. Biyela claims that many victims of the alleged perpetrator are afraid to come forward due to the contacts that the alleged suspect has. As of now, Biyela has confirmed with PDBY that she has opened a case with SAPS, but was also asked to open a case with the university.
“In order for the South African Police Service (SAPS) to take the alleged perpetrator into custody an open case was necessary”
Following the opening of the case, investigations are underway and the alleged perpetrator is due to appear in Pretoria’s Magistrate Court on 4 September. Despite the successful apprehension of the alleged perpetrator, Captain Weilbach urges victims “not to report crimes on social media platform alone without reporting it to the SAPS.”
In the emergence of the volatile situation on the streets of Hatfield, the University of Pretoria has issued a statement condemning the gender based violence that has plagued the nation. In a statement issued by Rikus Delport, Director of University Relations, he states that the university “supports students’ efforts in creating awareness of the unacceptable violence against women”. The statement also confirmed that a post graduate student was arrested on Monday night at a private residence in connection with an alleged rape that took place in 2018. Furthermore, Delport highlighted the fact that the university will open its own disciplinary action once a police case has been opened with SAPS. Delport also mentioned that “depending on the nature of the incident, the accused will be suspended immediately pending an investigation”. Following the aftermath of the protest staged by students, the University of Pretoria has deployed an unidentified former police sergeant who has 16 years of experience in sexual assault cases tasked with assisting students and staff on campus by working with the Transformation office to support victims in the process.
At a vigil held on Hatfield Campus on 3 September, SRC President David Kabwa stated that “the SRC was not directly involved in the protest action that transpired across Hatfield,” and that the SRC discourages “any and all forms of harm being inflicted from one student to another student [and] any and all incitement of violence from one student to another student.” In response to the backlash the SRC received from some students at the vigil, Kabwa expressed that students “would not be raising the issues if the issues were not valid,” which speaks to the need for the SRC to note criticism and acknowledge students’ issues “whether or not it is within [the] scope and parameters” of what the SRC can control.
“We don’t agree with any perpetrators being allowed to get off scot-free,” said Kabwa on behalf of the SRC, encouraging students to create an environment in which students feel safe to come forward in pursuit of justice.