Home / News / #RUReferenceList: amended demands, press conferences, and task team debated

#RUReferenceList: amended demands, press conferences, and task team debated

Swarag Tadepally and Mitchell Parker | Photos: Samuel Aviles

As we come to the end of the fifth day of protesting against rape culture at Rhodes University, we are looking back at the events of the last two days with a look forward to Vice-Chancellor Mabizela’s address at 2pm tomorrow.

Perhaps as a result of the interdict that was released, the early hours of Thursday, 21 April, saw a very quiet setting at the Purple Fee Square with a few NEHAWU members and very few students. Due to the interdict Rhodes University management applied for against students, the early morning intensity of the protests was reduced. However, this changed when at 3:30pm, when a mass meeting was held for the SRC and the student legal team to present to students.

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The meeting was scheduled to take place at the Purple Fee Square, with the main topic tabled for discussion being the amended list of demands by the student protesters; reflecting on an updated list of requests as a result of the events that had occurred after the first list of demands were created earlier that week.

The demands were as follows:

We as students of the University Currently Known as Rhodes (UCKAR), in consultation with the SRC, demand that the University take the following action:

  1. Begin investigations as soon as a student has been accused of rape or sexual assault. These students should be removed from residence, and suspended from attending class, while the investigation is pending. This demand for investigation procedures must be met immediately, beginning with those students named on the so-called “Reference List.”

Time frame: response expected by 17h00 on the 22nd of April 2016

  1. Should the University’s prosecutors (Sarah Driver and Gordon Barker) have any conflict of interest in a case, they must step down from the prosecution thereof.

Time frame: response expected by 17h00 on the 22nd of April 2016

  1. Refrain from recognising any student society or organisation—including the Student Representative Council—that does not adopt a policy for sexual assault in their Constitution or other governing document. The SRC has been tasked with the review of all SRC society constitutions.

Time frame: We expect an ongoing review of all constitutions or governing documents to be completed within 6 months. This would entail a monthly update on the process of investigations. Upon complettion we expect these new constitutions and governing documents enforeable by the 1st of January 2017.

  1. Suspend any student employed or appointed by the University from their position while an investigation of rape or sexual assault is pending.

Time frame: response expected by 17h00 on the 22nd of April 2016

  1. Inform the student body of the names of the members of the recently-appointed task team and their qualifications for appointment so that the student body may review the composition of the team.

Time frame: response expected by 17h00 on the 22nd of April 2016

  1. Include in the task team students not institutionally recognised and selected by the general student body. The task team is to further include external professionals as well as members of NEHAWU.

Time frame: response expected by 17h00 on the 22nd of April 2016

  1. A public apology from the Vice Chancellor and his senior management for the aggressive manner in which they have responded to the protest. This specifically includes the assault by the Vice Chancellor of a female student on Tuesday 19 April 2016. A further public apology is demanded from House Committee Members, Subwardens and Wardens who threatened students with hours if they participated in the protest.

Time frame: response expected by 17h00 on the 22nd of April 2016

  1. Agree not to take disciplinary action against students who participated in lawful protest from the time that the protest began on Sunday, April 17, 2016 until the protest ends.

Time frame: response expected by 17h00 on the 22nd of April 2016

We acknowledge that some of these demands will take time to implement, so our request is that the University provide a written and signed statement, with timelines for implementation, by Friday, April 22, at 17:00, responding to each of our abovementioned demands.

We request that a response be e-mailed to the address from which it was received.

A member of Rhodes academic staff also addressed the crowd with a statement signed by various members of Rhodes academia and also stated that should any other members of staff wish to add their names to the statement they would be welcome to do so.

The statement of which can be found here.

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After the meeting had been concluded a march through to upper campus and back down towards the administration building was arranged for and the substantial gathering of protesters made its way up campus from the Purple Fee Square, chanting and dancing while the front line of this crowd held a massive handmade banner with them. A representative of the student protesters then re-iterated items on the amended demand list and a final address and prayer by the representative of the College of Transfiguration left an emotional imprint as certain members of the crowd were overwhelmed by the intensity of the entire saga.

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Dr Mabizela, around this time, called for a press conference to take place the following day where he addressed a number of issues in his press conference and also answered a few questions at the end of the conference. A copy of the Vice-Chancellor’s address at this press conference is available here: Content of Dr Mabizela’s Press Conference.

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In light of this, the student protesters occupied the Eden Grove Red Lecture Room at 11:30am awaiting what was said at by the VC and the group of elected students chosen to represent the protesters had also conducted a press conference of their own in which they answered various questions as well.

After some context was given to the movement and the #Chapter212 campaign, student leaders answered questions from the press. Things brought up included the fact that students are looking into ways to take legal action against the University and SAPS; that some students have already come forward with statements about their sexual violence; and that the shut down would continue until such time as all demands were met. “We shall not rest until the war on women’s bodies is ended.”

Somes students then stayed back as there were rising concerns regarding the Task Team that was to be setup to tackle all the issues surrounding the matter and its functionality as an effective unit – a meeting of the interim task team having been scheduled for earlier morning.

“There’s only a proposal for the types of people who will be on the task team, as of now there is only an interim committee who is overseeing the procedures for the time being,” said Catriona Macleod, a member of the interim team. For more on the matters raised in this discussion, read the document that was released by those present here: RU Reference List – Matters Arising at Task Team Meeting


 

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A deadline of 5pm had been set for Dr Mabizela to agree to the amended list of demands. Students slowly started gathering at 4:30pm, began chanting in high spirit and by 5pm there were about 150 people at the steps of the clock tower. A representative of the student protesters informed that crowd that Dr Mabizela would be slightly delayed as he was held up in a meeting, and he arrived soon thereafter accompanied by various members of management.

Discussion between Mabizela and leaders of the the students protesters ensued whilst the crowd waited to be addressed by the Vice Chancellor. However, it is believed that given the intensity of the situation and all the issues the Vice Chancellor had to deal with, he was not able to study the amended list at length and thus requested time till 2pm tomorrow, 23rd April, to respond to the demands of the protesters.

There was mixed response to this as certain members of the crowd grew impatient and felt that management was stalling in making changes, whilst others felt it was important the Dr Mabizela provide an in-depth reply to the demands. The crowd however were insistent on knowing the status of the interdict as they felt it was unnecessary since management and academic staff had claimed to be supporting the student protesters. To this end, Deputy Vice Chancellor Peter Clayton spoke very briefly. “The interdict was taken out because the university did not have the mechanism to protect both protestors and non-protestors,” he said.

It was agreed that Dr Mabizela would be allowed the time requested to formulate a response to the demands. Soon thereafter, various members of staff spoke to the crowd addressing the fact that academic staff did feel they should be involved more and they insisted they were on the side of the students. Catriona Macleod spoke once again and re-iterated the importance of very carefully and cautiously approaching the manner in which to form a Task Team as she insisted that this be the cause for systemic change and not simply to “put a plaster on a sore” which would only help in the short term.

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Looking forward: the protesters await for Dr Mabizela’s address tomorrow at 2pm which will once again be at the steps of the admin building. During the press conference it was noted: “We will shut down until the demands have been met. Until Monday or until June. So be it”

To keep updated on the events at Rhodes University and #RUReferenceList and #RUInterdict, follow @ActivateOnline on Twitter and Activate on Facebook.