File photo: African News Agency (ANA)
DURBAN - Plans by the Department of Higher Education and Training to clamp down on gender-based violence at higher education institutions have been welcomed by local universities.

Reacting to the policy framework to address gender-based violence, the universities said the move would reinforce programmes already in place to deal with the scourge.

The policy framework is in the process of being approved.

Several institutions have had to deal with either incidents or allegations of rape and sexual assault.

Statistics that universities and public colleges gave to the department last year revealed that 47 students had been raped in 2017.

Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) Dean of Students Thembi Kweyama said: “We are aware of the policy framework and we are in the process of developing our own institutional policy to encompass issues such as sexual harassment, rape and bullying.”

Kweyama said they have been inundated with complaints either from students (victims) or from protection services.

“The development and the existence of this policy will assist the university in terms of how these complaints are handled not only in a disciplinary process, but also for rehabilitation and offering counselling and after-care to our students.”

Kweyama said they were aware that some students had had lecturers demand sex in exchange for good marks. “This framework speaks to this as well,” she said.

MUT had a gender-based violence incident last year when student Zolile Khumalo, 21, was shot dead, allegedly by her ex-boyfriend, at her off-campus Lonsdale residence.

Noxolo Memela, communications manager at the Durban University of Technology, said the institution had had a sexual harassment policy in place since 2007, and in 2018 it was revised to be a broader harassment, gender-based violence and bullying policy in line with the department’s policy.

“The university has taken a decision to implement awareness campaigns on sexual harassment in the university for both staff and students and to establish a research-orientated unit to guide and generate trust in the system,” she said.

Ashton Stanley Bodrick, from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said the university supported the department’s initiative.

He said that in 2017, UKZN had developed its own policy framework to address the scourge.

“The policy serves to address challenges faced by our students.

“There is a critical lack of awareness on issues relating to gender-based violence, sexual orientation and sexual harassment, resulting in unacceptable levels of sexual violence, homophobic assaults and bullying of LGBTI students,” Bodrick said.

He said the university needed to ensure that every single reported instance of harassment, violence or abuse was taken seriously.

“We need to ensure that our investigation and prosecution teams are trained in how to respond appropriately to reported instances of gender-based violence; that complainants receive immediate counselling support and assistance in opening criminal cases where appropriate; and that offenders are prosecuted and disciplined.”

As part of the policy framework, the department wants tertiary institutions to supply it with data on all security issues that have contributed to gender-based violence on campuses.

It said it was also considering a register of sex offenders that institutions could use when recruiting council and staff members.

The department has also called for measures that will prevent lecturers from demanding sex for marks.