KRISTIN DE DECKER
Gender-based violence (GBV) has dominated most topics of conversation around campus recently, spurred on by vigils, social media and protest action. Safety was also intertwined in this discussion, as alleged rapes on UP campuses sparked further anxiety and fear, contributing to the eventual cancellation of classes. Although classes have resumed, concerns about safety, specifically on campus, still permeate student conversations.
Who was first?
Violence perpetrated against women in its various forms is not a new concept. The sheer number of recent incidents of gender-based violence have simply increased public awareness. This was reiterated by SRC President David Kabwa when he told PDBY that “we cannot now pretend that it is a new phenomenon because it is so heated.” The vigil held on 3 September was illuminating as stories were brought forward, many occurring prior to the murders of Uyinene Mrwetyana, Meghan Cremer, Jesse Hess and others. One such case of GBV is that of Jabulile Masango, a third year BCom Supply Chain Management student, who spoke out at the vigil. She was amongst many other women and opened with the words, “I was raped”.
In an interview with PDBY, she opened up about the assault. What Masango described as “a very long and painful journey”, began on Hatfield campus in 2018 “in the Humanities building”. The proximity of the incident shocked people according to Masango as, “it happened on campus” and because the perpetrator “was the chairperson of [a] society”. She also revealed that “[she] and this person were in a relationship” at the time, which contributed to the fact that “[she] was in denial” about what happened. Masango then told PDBY that once she heard about Khensani Maseko, it “clicked in [her] head” that a similar thing had been done to her. Maseko was a Rhodes student, who took her own life after her boyfriend had allegedly raped her.
Masango suggested that it is important to acknowledge the fact that even if you are in a relationship with a person, sexual conduct without consent is still rape. And even if tomorrow you continue, it doesn’t erase the fact that on that specific day there was rape.” The UP Transformation office clarified to PDBY that they are aware of “three alleged rape cases that were reported to the police involving students since the beginning of the year”. Of these cases “two… reportedly happened on UP campuses.” Yet, it is noteworthy to acknowledge that not all incidents are reported as many “do not feel comfortable or safe to come forward” as highlighted by Kabwa. Masango also told PDBY that “after [she] spoke out, many girls came to [her].” These other women’s stories affirmed for Masango that, “we think this is a safe place but what goes on around here is shocking”. She gave a variety of examples from sexualising women as they are walking on campus to inappropriate sexual touching.
“[She is] not a victim. [She is] a victor. [She is] a survivor and what happened to [her] does not define [her].”
What is UP doing?
According to Rikus Delport, Director of University Relations, “the University of Pretoria takes violence, sexual assault and rape extremely seriously”. He also told PDBY that UP has “appointed a former police sergeant, with approximately sixteen years’ experience in sexual assault and rape cases, to assist students and staff on campus.” Delport then explained that this former police sergeant will accompany the victim to the “closest designated crisis centre at a hospital” and in collaboration with the Transformation Office, “will support the victim throughout the process, including opening a police case, getting a psychologist involved and providing any other assistance she/he may need.”
The Transformation Office itself told PDBY that it “was specifically established to support victims of rape and sexual violence”. Kabwa also identified the Transformation Office as the first place to report such incidents. However, when asked about UP’s help structures Masango said that, during her experience, she “didn’t even know they existed.” She urges UP to let students “know [about] the different avenues we can take” and protect its students, as being informed can significantly reduce added trauma. The housemother of Azaleg, Zamile Mzizi, echoed this notion when she told PDBY that “we as staff and the university need to listen and become bold in how we champion our students”.
Pierre Brouard, the Co-director of the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender (CSA&G), maintains that they do “perceive the university to be responding with urgency and genuine interest to address SGBV” (sexual and gender-based violence). There are also voluntary Anti-GBV workshops available to all UP staff, with one that was run on 1 October and another scheduled for 19 November in the Graduate Centre. The CSA&G also assists with running anti-sexual harassment workshops as well as “support[s] a student led initiative #SpeakOut which provides informal peer support around sexual harassment and GBV”, according to Brouard. Another venture is the new Anti-Discrimination Policy that the SRC is working on, in conjunction with a multitude of structures, that Kabwa hopes will “serve these issues.” Brouard reaffirmed this sentiment and suggested that “we promote and implement the new Anti Discrimination Policy at UP with urgency”. Additionally, he suggested “the office designated to address SGBV and other harms [must be] well resourced and supported to address harm when it is experienced, remaining victim-centred while respecting due process for alleged perpetrators.”
Does any of this help?
Masango highlighted that some of the first words a woman hears when she speaks out are, “I don’t believe you”. She said that this “crushes everything” as there are already detrimental repercussions this type of trauma can have on the survivor’s life. Mental health in tandem with academic success are two of these spheres that can be affected. Masango informed PDBY that “her academics suffered” and that her “deep depression” resulted in her being “admitted to a psychiatric hospital”. Her position at Res was also compromised, meaning she had to apply for Director’s placement and write down her entire experience in a statement.
Additionally, Masango “had to fight” the academic system and reinforced that this type of SGBV should be a “good enough reason to write a sick test”, as her and other women often face academic exclusion. The UP structures in place could potentially be viewed as ineffective if lecturers and departments alike do not co-operate with students. Moreover, Masanga asks “if we don’t know, how will we take the steps?”. Although she received aid from the pregnancy counselling unit, and was referred to further psychological assistance, she was not made aware of all her options. She told PDBY that had she known about the Transformation Office, and the fact that “they can appoint a lawyer for you free of charge”, she may have re-considered pressing charges, as financial restrictions amongst other reasons meant she did not open a case. The idea of a judge deciding whether or not she was assaulted even though she would “be telling her truth” was also an influencing factor.
Why is this happening?
A “culture of entitlement” is what Masango attributes to the current state of GBV She believes that “we live in a very patriarchal society where the man is seen as superior to the woman”. Palesa Nkosi, a BPolSci International Studies student and member of the movement #One Rapist One Bullet feels that “the university itself has given men a field to practice toxic masculinity” and “do[es] not think UP has dealt with GBV issues adequately.” Mzizi however, suggests that “we cannot shift this blame onto the university itself” but that “students need to intensify action-discourse amongst themselves.” She also underlined “a lot of female students don’t feel safe because of the behaviour of their fellow male students.”
What is next?
“It starts with each of us standing up to say that no means no”, Kabwa told PDBY, as “the rape culture that has been rooted in our wider society is appalling.” Mzizi highlighted that “this campus belongs to all of us. No one should be superior to anyone, especially men who act as if our bodies were put on this campus as some kind of Life Orientation Module they need to complete at our expense.” Finally, Masango would like fellow students to know that “[She is] not a victim. [She is] a victor. [She is] a survivor and what happened to [her] does not define [her].”
Photo: Darec Hall