UWC students march against GBV and university’s silence on reported cases

The protesters alleged that the university does not take reported cases of gender-based violence seriously. Photo by Asive Mabula

Two cases of sexual assault involving three EFFSC leaders at UWC provoked students to march against gender-based violence on campus.

Over a 100 students from the University of the Western Cape (UWC) marched last Friday against gender-based violence (GBV) on their campus. Led by UWC Womxn in collaboration with the student representative council (SRC), students resolved to march following an increase in GBV cases on their campus. The UWC Womxn movement, started by LLB student, Winnie Mkoko, was formed because of the university’s failure to attend to issues related to GBV raised by students. “A GBV case was opened against SRC leaders, and the institution had failed to send communications on that. After this had occurred, a number of victims came out about their cases,” said Mkoko. These cases were reported to the university, but were never concluded if attended to at all.

“We can confirm that the Office of the Proctor received a complaint of assault that occurred off campus. An investigation is currently underway by the Office of the Proctor. Matters such as these are treated as very serious,” said Gasant Abarder, marketing and media manager at UWC.

The sexual assault occurred on a weekend in September, and the victim reported the case the following day on campus. She fears for her life as her and her friends have received threats from the accused to drop the case. “I want them [the perpetrators] to suffer and I want other women to come out and speak […] My mouth was swollen from the inside so from time to time my gums hurt.

“I have been offered counselling and they [UWC] said the case is under investigation. I have been writing them emails to follow up on the case, but no response and I am now writing exams,” she said.

In a separate incident, another SRC leader is accused of assaulting his girlfriend. The accused in both cases are SRC leaders and members of Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command (EFFSC) at the university. In a statement published on X, the EFFSC at the University of the Western Cape names the alleged perpetrators and states that they have called for the suspension of three SRC leaders pending investigations. The EFFSC-led SRC pledged their support for the march and stated that the organisation “is not a haven for persons who have been accused of GBV”.

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“Ours is one and it is to protect the interests of all the students at UWC. The truth is the institution does not listen to students; the SRC accused perpetrators must be punished,” said Inathi Gogela, SRC gender and security officer. The UWC EFFSC has mandated the SRC to immediately launch an investigation alongside UWC legal services. Added to this, the SRC has also been mandated to suspend the accused members immediately.

Silence is violence

The institution is accused of not listening to students and not following its own policies. Zaylia Vivienne, Break the Silence co-founder and student, said in 2019 she was standing in the same place for the same reasons. “What saddens me more is the silence because we all know silence is violence. In 2019 I stood on these very same steps when my friend Jesse Hess passed away as a result of rape and murder, and what did we get from the university? Silence and all she got was a vigil,” said Vivienne.

The first demand of the memorandum, handed over to Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Student Development and Support, Matete Madiba states that, “All reports of Gender Based Violence will be processed with urgency and expeditiously”. This demand is only confirming Section 8.2.2.2 of UWC’s Sexual Violence Policy (2018) which states that all investigations [around sexual offences and related] be started within 48 hours of receiving the complaint.

Madiba said they need “all hands on deck”. “The one area is a preventive part, and a clear question is what are we doing as a university together, because, maybe to your disappointment, the university is not just management, you are the university,” she said. The students booed her saying that they had at least taken action while the university cannot point to anything it has done. Questions about the university’s silence and evident failure to address GBV were put to Madiba by the crowd of students. They vehemently disagreed with her and she walked away without finishing her response.

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The demands of the marchers include the suspension of the accused perpetrators from campus and academic activity during investigations, adequate counselling for victims of GBV and a 24-hour hotline for students to contact security and the Bellville police.

CPUT student stabbed more than 10 times

Not more than 24 hours after the GBV march, a Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) student was stabbed more than 10 times by her UWC partner at a private residence in Belhar. In the videos, which circulated on social media, the suspect is seen repeatedly stabbing the woman. She is said to be recovering in hospital.

“At this stage our focus is on supporting the recovering student and ensuring justice is served in this matter; as such, we will work closely with SAPS and the National Prosecuting Authority to ensure this,” reads the statement released by CPUT Vice-Chancellor, Prof Chris Nhlapo.

Students that responded first to the victim were commended by the vice-chancellor. “This is indeed a sad incident to have occurred to one of our own, especially as the nation prepares for the launch of the 16 Days of Activism campaign,” his statement continues.

A case of attempted murder has been registered at Belhar police station, according to Captain Frederick van Wyk, media liaison officer of the Western Cape South African Police Services (SAPS). “Circumstances surrounding this stabbing incident are under investigation. A 30-year-old male suspect was arrested and is currently under police guard in hospital. The injured victim was transported to a nearby medical facility for treatment,” he said.

According to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in the Western Cape, Ntembeko Myalo appeared at the Bellville Magistrate Court on Monday and was charged with attempted murder. His case has been postponed to 20 November for bail application.

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