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Swarag Tadepally & Mitchell Parker | Photos: Samuel Aviles

After the posting of a list of alleged perpetrators of rape and sexual assault (since dubbed the #RUReferenceList) on the SRC page yesterday evening, Rhodes University saw mass demonstrations throughout the night with calls for resignations of those on the list in leadership positions, questions being asked about the efficacy of Rhodes’ sexual assault policy and a coming together of over 200 people in support of survivors of sexual violence.

Mobilisation began after a call for students to meet at the SRC offices, where one of the alleged works presently, and another worked previously. This after the hashtag #RUReferenceList started trending on both Facebook and Twitter with calls to action against the rape culture at Rhodes.

What followed was 5 hours of demonstration around campus, with those involved actively seeking out those listed in the #RUReferenceList and demanding of them explanation as to why their names were on the list in the first place. This took the demonstrating students from Union, through to Jan Smuts, Goldfields, Calata, Cullen Bowles and Graham residences respectively.

Students marching down from upper campus through to the Purple Fee Square.

Vice-Chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela and Director of Student Affairs Dr. Colleen Vassiliou, arrived on the scene when the crowd were assembled outside Cullen Bowles. Their purpose, it seemed, was to dissipate the crowds and ensure that those named were left unharmed, whilst also attempting to engage with the crowd and their demands.

Rhodes Upper Management were present at the Purple Fee Square.

 Mabizela pleaded for students not in Cullen Bowles to leave the residence premises and protect the privacy of the individual named living there. This caused an uproar both on social media and from the crowd with many students finding it ironic that Mabizela is willing to protect a man accused of sexual assault but that Rhodes University management have been so neglectful in terms of rape culture at the university.
Two students named on the list were kept ‘in custody’ throughout the proceedings.

As the demonstration wound its way back down to lower campus, and after there were failed attempts at finding one of the alleged at Graham House, a mass meeting was held in the historical Purple Fee square – the space central to the #FeesMustFall protests last year.

The #RUReferenceList demonstrations ended their night at Purple Fee Square.

SRC Activism and Transformation Councillor Naledi Mashishi addressed students at the Purple Fee Square, along with other members of the movement and began to draw up a list of demands. Rhodes management arrived on the scene during this engagement, with many students trying to engage with them with regards to the events of the evening.

  • Gordon Barker and Sarah Driver immediately step down as the university proctors. This is because the manner in which they have dealt with victims in the past has been extremely callous and has resulted in a number of victims having secondary trauma.
  • A team must be appointed to deal with cases of abuse and assault. Currently, there is only one Harassment Officer to deal with all cases of abuse and assault and we find this highly problematic as when she is not in students have no one else to report to.
  • Changes must be made to the current sexual policy. These include a change of the definition of rape to include those who are forced to penetrate another as well as to change the policy which currently requires victims to prove that their perpetrators intended to rape them.
  • Mandatory sensitivity training for staff. This includes CPU
  • People charged with sexual assault may not be able to run for and occupy student leadership positions. Past sexual assault charges must be taken into consideration when selecting subwardens as the position is not just employment but a leadership position as well.
  • Buchule Madikizela must step down as the SRC Environmental Councillor
  • In the event of a shut down, the Health Care Centre and the Counselling Centre must stay open
  • Those charged with rape must be suspended from residence- Rape charges must be placed on students permanent academic records
  • No student who participates in any protest action will face disciplinary action or be otherwise penalised. This includes DP removals for missed tutorials, practicals, lectures, or submissions, tests, or being given fail marks for any of the above.”

Members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) arrived on the edge of the scene in four vehicles, and then a later six more vehicles, to block off Prince Alfred Street. Dr. Mabizela spoke to these SAPS personnel as he stood along side the other members of management. Police addressed the crowd of protesters gathered at Purple Fee Square and announced that they will not be taking anybody into custody yet, and urged the crowd to remember that those on the list cannot be assumed guilty until it has been proven in a court of law. They did, however, agree to talk to survivors and move to prosecute perpetrators as soon as possible.

The SAPS kept a careful watch on students present.

Leadership among the #RUReferenceList demonstration have said that if their demands have not been met by 4pm today, Monday 18 April, they will call for a full academic shutdown. In the meantime, they have said that Rhodes will be academically shutdown for today. The university management however emphasised that classes would continue, although they also agreed that those engaged in the protests would not be penalized for not attending.

“We are tired of being victims. We are tired of management doing nothing. We will shutdown until they do something.”

Since the beginning of this movement there has been a lot of action being taken by the protesters. Yet despite the strong purpose of the crowd and their movement, there is currently no clear group of individuals or student organisation that is leading the protests at this point in time. In the midst of all this, the organisers of Chapter 2.12 campaign which was started earlier this week have asserted that they are not responsible for the release of the ‘reference’ list and so far there is no credible information as to who may have released this list.

The morning of Monday, 18 April, saw the crowd once again resume their protest by disrupting lectures at Barratt, Chemistry Major, the General Lecture Theatre (GLT) and Eden Grove. The agitation was quite high as one protester was heard saying “We will not take a break, we will not breathe. We will remain here, we have to mobilise.”  Protesters urged those who could not take part directly to make their voices heard indirectly by boycotting lectures. This carried through the morning and just before 11am, students occupied the council chambers in the Administration building. They had then proceeded to the area between the Kaif and the library.

“When we occupy the space, we stay in the space, we make our voices heard, we sing, we refuse to move”

At around 2pm, Dr. Lindsay Kelland addressed the protesters at the Drostdy Lawns in order to arrange a “solution-driven” meeting with the Rhodes management. This angered the crowd as they were past the point of negotiations and were adamant on having their demands met, which led to the crowd first marching towards the law faculty, but then they moved on and wound up occupying the Senior Common Room in the Admin Building.

The students then met with Mabizela to discuss their concerns. Read more about that here.

“What struck with most of us is that we are not allowed to touch these rapists because its against their rights, which is ironic.”

To find out more on this story as it develops, follow @ActivateOnline on Twitter. Also for a complete list of the demands put forward by the protesters you can follow us on Twitter or go to our website.