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NMU student remains suspended despite girlfriend withdrawing rape charge

By Afikile Lugunya - Aug 7, 2018
NMU student remains suspended despite girlfriend withdrawing rape charge

The Nelson Mandela University on Monday said that the student, who allegedly raped his girlfriend over the past weekend will remain suspended, despite his girlfriend formally withdrawing the charges against him.

"The University unequivocally reiterates its condemnation of acts of GBV and remains committed to working with staff and students to embed a culture of zero tolerance.

"We urge students to practice their agency in partnering with management to promote safety on all our campuses, particularly in communal spaces such as the residences. The University commits to intensifying its sustained programme of action to advocate against GBV and to massify our efforts in eradicating this scourge," the university said.

After spending most of Monday protesting over security at the NMU, the students were addressed by NMU Vice Chancellor, Professor Sibongile Muthwa.

 The student demanded frequent updates of all pending gender based incidents on and off campus:

  • A suspension of all perpetrators in the institution,
  • Legal investigations of the cases that are open,
  • Panic buttons Panic buttons in students rooms especially women,
  • Awareness of posters that are victim focused,
  • Students must be equipped by the pepper sprays, and
  • All shuttle stops must be reviewed, among other things mentioned in the memorandum.

The Vice Chancellor of Nelson Mandela University, Professor Muthwa said that she was very disappointed that the perpetrator was also a student at the institution. 

She encouraged students to expose perpetrators because it's impossible to have a university where men and women isolated from each other.

"We sustain our solidarity and we must isolate bad behavior."

She added that the management will spend the rest of the afternoon looking into the matters that have been raised and written in the memorandum.

"To women in particular, I want to say that you must never feel that you are less, growing up in the rural areas deprives many women to speak about abuse, but you have a voice so speak about it," she added.

The university later issued the response below after looking at the memorandum of demands that it received from the students:

Frequent GBV updates

The University has committed to send out a quarterly Memo outlining the work that is being done in an effort to combat the issue of gender-based violence as a university community, as well as an update on reported rape or sexual harassment and assault cases and progress therein.

Due process in dealing with reported cases of GBV

"In terms of the Student Disciplinary Code, the alleged perpetrator in the weekend’s incident has been summarily suspended.

"The process of dealing with reported GBV cases may differ depending on the nature and complexity of the offence. Normally, the process that is followed is that, on request from the complainant, a no-contact order will be issued as soon as is practically possible. Once an investigation has taken place, appropriate disciplinary action ensues once due process has been followed," the NMU said.

"The current Student Disciplinary Code and Sexual Harassment Policy will be reviewed to improve alignment where necessary. Students have been invited to make submissions to Legal Services (in respect of the Student Disciplinary Code) and Transformation, Monitoring and Evaluation Unit (for Sexual Harassment Policy) and they have undertaken to do so by Wednesday, 8 August."

Enhanced investigative capacity

The University is presently engaged in an institution-wide organizational redesign process with the intention of reviewing the effectiveness of existing policies, systems, processes and structures.

"As part of this exercise, due consideration is being given to improving the responsiveness, integration and agility of all support services, including important priorities such as ensuring the safety and security of staff and students.

"Furthermore, a comprehensive Safety and Security Strategy has been developed in consultation with relevant stakeholders and processes are under way to implement integrated security technology solutions," the NMU said.

"The University acknowledges the importance of adequate investigative capacity as well as the need to provide skills training to empower a broader pool of Protection Services staff, as first responders, to take statements and handle GBV cases sensitively."

Mandatory GBV training

Mandatory GBV training will be provided to all University students in on- and accredited off-campus residences, as well as all incoming 2019 student leaders.

"In addition, efforts to increase awareness of and advocate against GBV will be embedded in the student orientation programme, the social consciousness module for all first years, as well as student leadership development programmes to clearly outline expected student conduct."

Intersectional approach to security

The University has agreed that an intersectional response to safety and security is needed to ensure that solutions are tailored to cater for groups that are most vulnerable, including black, female, LGBTIQA+ and disabled staff and students.

ICT is exploring the development of a cellphone app, which will act as a panic button that can be activated to solicit a response from the University’s control rooms. Such technological solutions are part of the new, integrated Safety and Security Strategy. The process of installing a biometric access system at residences is under way.

The University has committed to invite student leaders to participate in the project initiation meeting at a date yet to be set.

Increased awareness

Building on the MEMEZA campaign, gender-based violence advocacy interventions will be intensified, including a Women-in-Leadership development programme that will be designed in collaboration with female students.

"The University agrees that female students need to be empowered to defend themselves, including popularising self-defence classes to be offered on a sustainable basis," the NMU added.

"Efforts to eradicate the societal rape culture will include dialogues, posters and infographics to share GBV statistics, as well as a call to action to male staff and students to take responsibility for convening iimbizo. These are aimed at creating spaces for raising awareness, initiating conversations and devising visible action plans to curb GBV."

Review of shuttle routes

Shuttle routes have been comprehensively reviewed in consultation with student leadership as part of the new student transportation strategy, to be implemented from January 2019.

Furthermore, management has undertaken to immediately liaise with student leadership with regards to their specific safety concerns as it relates to current shuttle routes, eg Bird Street and Uitenhage terminus.

Way forward             

All university operations, including academic activities, will resume tomorrow morning, with shuttle services to operate as normal across all campuses.