On Monday the 19th April 2016, Rhodes University campus saw a continuation of the peaceful protests which began as a result of the publication of the “#RUReferencelist” which divulges the names of 11 alleged rapists in attendance at the University and subsequently, the protesters were predominately either rape survivors or people marching in solidarity with the survivors.
The protests were continued after widespread feelings of dissatisfaction among the protesters with regards to the manner in which the Vice-Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, handled the events of the previous evening. The Sunday night protests involved the mobilisation of over 200 students actively seeking out the accused rapists from the #RUReferencelist- by marching to the various residences and demanding answers from the alleged perpetrators. Mabizela’s plea to the protestors to leave the residences for the sake of respecting and protecting the privacy of the accused exacerbated the situation significantly, as the protesters brought to light the fact that it was ironic to protect someone whom they believe to be guilty of sexual assault while the university has taken limited action against the prevalence of rape culture at the university.
Several key members in the early hours of Monday morning of the protest action addressed the gathered protesters, including Dominique McFall of Chapter 212, who reiterated the peaceful nature of the protest, “While we stand together, we do not stand for violence.” Albeit that the Chapter 212 movement has played a crucial role throughout the course of the movement, they have explicitly stated that they were not responsible for the publication of the #RUReferencelist. The identity of the person or group who uploaded the list remains anonymous.
Protesters regrouped at 9am following a brief dispersal around 3am by the majority. A small group were holding one of the accused in custody, but they were warned by the police to release him to prevent crossing legal boundaries by holding him against his will. The group then proceeded to interrupt lectures at Barratt, Chemistry Major, the General Lecture Theatre and Eden Grove to recruit new protesters and encourage fellow students to boycott lectures.. This also aimed to mobilise the students to occupy the Administration Building and later the library and surrounding areas.
At this stage, raising awareness was one of the primary goals of the protesters, a method for which included occupying the dining halls to encourage the workers to participate in the movement. Because solidarity and showing support is such a large component to the movement against rape culture as a whole, students have been advised that it is not crucial to participate in protests but rather, merely by boycotting lectures, they will adopt a non-complacent stand and assist in the desired partial academic shutdown.
By 4pm, the anticipation of the protesters had increased exponentially to hear the response of Mabizela to the list of demands compiled by the #RUReferencelist and Chapter 121 movements. Consequently, the fact that Mabizela had no devices available to better the volume and many people were unable to hear him in conjunction with his mispronunciation of the “121” in “Chapter 121” decreased his support significantly. In addition to this, many members of the audience did not feel he addressed some of the most pertinent issues in sufficient detail, such as the fate of the people whose names appeared on #RUReferencelist. In his speech, the Vice-Chancellor proposed a number of changes and affirmative action programmes, including introducing a task team comprising of staff members to address the gaps in Rhodes’ policies and procedures as well as improving the counselling services to make them more accessible on a 24hour basis. According to Mabizela, the fundamental issue lies in the legislation, which is in line with that of the country because the victim has to provide evidence of the rapist’s intent. This increases the difficulty of legally charging the perpetrator with the crime.
In the protests that occurred during the regrouping at 7pm, it was officially decided that a partial shutdown would be initiated for the following day and all academic activities would be disrupted. A barricade was erected at Lucas Avenue and protestors took to writing on the streets slogans such as “No Means No,” before continuing their march around upper campus. On this occasion, as opposed to forcing their way into residences, the focus of the protesters was merely on mobilising students as they sang and marched, undeterred by the thunderstorm.
Words by Shannon Lorimer
Featured image by Bronwyn Pretorius