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“We are experiencing an unspeakable time, a gruesome year and one of the most horrid eras of human rights violations since the dawn of democracy in 1994.” So said Nelson Mandela University Vice-Chancellor, Prof Sibongile Muthwa, at the culmination of a peaceful institutional march that she led, alongside Chair of Council, Ambassador Nozipho January-Bardill, the Student Representative Council (SRC) and students linked to the Activist Connexions group.

At the George Campus, the march was led by acting campus principal, Mr David Alexander, alongside SRC representatives.

Brandishing placards bearing anti-GBV slogans and dressed in black, hundreds of Mandela University students and staff marched from North to South campus in solidarity against gender-based violence (GBV), femicide, xenophobia and all forms of violent crime.

“Last week I shared with you the pain and agony for what is happening in our institution, our nation,” said Prof Muthwa.

“We are our country, one which is an extremely violent world for women and children. We are our university, one that is not yet safe for our female students and staff.

“As a country and a university community, we stand ashamed and distraught. We have become our own monster.”

Gender-based violence remains one of society’s greatest challenges. Harrowing statistics show that a woman is murdered every three hours in South Africa, and the country has the world’s fourth highest death rate due to ‘interpersonal violence’.

The University, as a microcosm of society, is not immune to the scourge of gender-based violence.

“This brutality must stop, in particular gender and sexually based violence and we must start here, at Mandela,” said Prof Muthwa.

To highlight the plight of GBV on campus, students embarked on a “sit-in” protest last week, where they handed over a memorandum of demands, to which University management responded.

Speaking at the march, SRC member Anam Mbebe, took a moment to acknowledge the direct and indirect victims of the violence against women and children, and the xenophobic attacks.

“Twenty-five years after democracy, women, in particular, are oppressed. Women are still living in fear, and are still seen as second-class citizens,” she said.

“The University community is a microcosm of society, and therefore reflects on what is happening in the broader society. We should therefore not isolate it from the broader spectrum of society.

“We therefore hope that [the march] will not be just another event … but have workable solutions.”

Student leader Yandisa Jubase, representing the Activist Connexions group, decried the manner in which GBV matters are handled, even within the institution.

“We meet as Mandela University in a time in our country where the war on womxn bodies has become a reality that we as a country can no longer avoid,” she said.

“By virtue of our institutions being microcosms of society, this is an unfortunate reality that we must collide with – even this institution named after Nelson Mandela.”

In a bid to address some of the concerns that have been raised, Prof Muthwa called on the Mandela University community and stakeholders to, among others:

  • Accelerate the establishment of the safe house for victims of GBV, “which we have committed to put in place as a matter of urgency”.
  • Build a grassroots movement against GBV at the University
  • Expedite the drafting of a declaration against GBV to be signed by the entire University community and visitors
  • Collectively speed up the review of policy so as to quicken the turn- around times of GBV cases
  • Assist the working group in developing a comprehensive gender transformation strategy for the university
  • Support the Women and Gender Studies Centre that will be launched next month

“We must wake up because our humanity is at stake. Let us get to work. It is time for united action against GBV,” she said.

A student delivering a message against GBV and the recent upsurge of xenophobic violence that has gripped the country called on people to return to love, as an overriding emotion.

“The scourge of GBV and xenophobic attacks are some of the greatest evils that hinder us from moving forward. These are highly rooted in the lack of love for each other,” he said.

“The fact that we have to resort to violence to settle our conflict and to fulfil our urges shows a great need for love, which comes from within. With love, we are able to understand each other’s emotions, irrespective of our differences. So, let us all unite in love, peace and harmony.”

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Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777