Minister Naledi Pandor is organising an emergency crisis meeting with universities after 47 rape cases were reported on campuses across the country.
Johannesburg - South African universities are taking steps to make campuses safer for female students, after Higher Education and Training Minister Naledi Pandor named the higher education institutions at which incidents of rape or sexual assault had occurred in 2017.

University authorities recently indicated that they had responded swiftly to making campuses safer, putting moves in place to ensure stronger support for victims of rape and sexual assault. These included establishing a court on campus, adopting a zero tolerance policy against attacks, improving security and appointing a former police officer to respond to incidents.

Pandor told Parliament last week that 47 students had been raped on campuses in 2017, prompting her to call for an emergency meeting with universities to discuss ways in which to address this scourge.

“We’ve got a date. I thought what we should do, rather than making it a ministerial concern, (with) me calling vice-chancellors, is work through Universities South Africa. They’re working with my team and we agreed on a date,” Pandor said.

The chief executive of Universities South Africa (USAf), Ahmed Bawa, said that Pandor had suggested that USAf hold a round-table meeting before the end of the month with university and college authorities, and student leaders and other structures, to address the high levels of violence on campuses.

“A key challenge is the level of gender-based violence on our campuses and the urgent need to ensure that women students feel safe, but there are also other forms of violence that are prevalent and need to be addressed. We will work closely with the ministry to address this unacceptable state of affairs,” he said.

Also in response to the situation, the Department of Higher Education and Training was finalising a draft policy and strategy to advise South African higher education institutions on how to deal with gender-based violence, including rape.

UCT - one of South Africa’s top-ranked universities - recorded the highest number of cases of rape (nine) and sexual assault incidents in 2017 followed by Walter Sisulu University with seven, the Tshwane University of Technology with six, Nelson Mandela University with five and the University of Johannesburg with four.

Rhodes University and the University of the Western Cape each reported two.

The University of the Witwatersrand, the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, the Durban University of Technology, North West University, the University of Pretoria and the University of South Africa each reported one incident.

Another incident was reported last week, when a student was allegedly raped at Walter Sisulu University, resulting in a student boycott of classes in protest against the lack of safety on campus.

In response to the crisis, University of Cape Town spokesperson Elijah Moholola said UCT had established the sexual assault response team, a multidisciplinary group of professionals, to address the culture of rape, sexual assault and gender discrimination.

The Office for Inclusivity and Change was implementing programmes for gender-based violence prevention and sexual assault case management, and the Student Wellness Service also provided psychological support for students.

University of Pretoria spokesperson Rikus Delport said every student and staff member had the right to feel secure, both on and off campus: “We are continually looking at ways in which we can improve our support, especially support of survivors, when such incidents occur. We have appointed a former police sergeant, with approximately 16 years of experience in sexual assault and rape cases, to assist students and staff. As soon as a case is reported, the officer will immediately assist the victim by accompanying her or him to the closest designated crisis centre at a hospital.”

Buhle Zuma, senior communications officer at Wits University, said they have a “zero tolerance approach” to sexual violence and harassment.

“As such, the university has a Gender Equity Office dealing with all aspects of gender-based violence and the advancement of gender equity on its five campuses. Wits is the only university in the country that has a specific, complainant-centred policy dealing with gender-related misconduct. This is supported by other policies on sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape, anti-discrimination and sexual and romantic relationships between staff and students,” she said.

Yonela Tukwayo, spokesperson for Walter Sisulu University in the Eastern Cape - where an alleged rape occurred last week, and which reported seven incidents of sexual assault in 2017 - said: “Our universities are microcosms of the societies we operate in and no university has foolproof mechanisms to block out societal ills Since the beginning of 2018, no rape incidents have been reported. We, in effect, had six cases of rape from 2017 because one was withdrawn.”

In August, the Rhodes University community in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) was rocked by the suicide of Khensani Maseko after she had laid a rape complaint against a fellow student in May.

In response, the university said last month that it had appointed Dr Zethu Mkhize as its harassment and discrimination officer. Mkhize said her role was to provide a “safe haven to those who had been wronged and to advise them of their options”.

* This article first appeared on the University World News site www.universityworldnews.com