Yesterday the UCT PR machine sent out an email labelled “Campus Announcement: Security alert: another Rhodes Memorial incident”. This communication is the latest in a string of emails detailing incidents of sexual violence that have happened near Rhodes Memorial – a tourist destination and memorial to a thieving colonialist attached to the campus that also doubles as extra parking space. The university stated that it was “distressed and outraged” that the total attacks on women near the memorial that have now reached four in just over two months. Yet, cases of sexual violence have happened at Rhodes Memorial for years. The difference is that after years of veritable silence about this issue, UCT is now sending out alerts about sexual assault incidents that occur on and near UCT property.
Last week, when the total number of women attacked was three, one commentator on Facebook, Stewart Innes, noted that “Maybe if half the security guards outside exam venues had been patrolling the periphery of campus this could have been avoided. It was mightily excessive/heavy handed that I wrote an exam on the 12th(the day after one of the incidents) with 9 other people and still 4 guards standing outside on their cellphones because there was no threat. Food for thought.” This commentator made it clear that UCT shows its priorities by where it puts its resources. More security in this particular area would be a small part of the solution but it would be a plaster on a problem that has been festering for years.
On January the 16th, I tweeted @UCT_ News the following: “So this week I got catcalled by the private security on campus? Who are they there to protect? Definitely not me or other women.” They responded by letting me know that the “additional security on campus during deferred exams belong to a company affiliated to G4S which is responsible for campus safety”. They also urged me to report the incident to DISCHO. I fired back by asking them to ensure the report detailing how DISCHO has failed students is released to the public. Last year, I attended two of the sessions of the review process that this report would stem from. I listened to student organisation after student organisation bring forward information from their constituents about how these structures have not only been inadequate but have also re-traumatised them.
I tweeted @UCT_News again and asked them to provide proof that the various problems raised in the review process have been dealt with and was met with no response. I have personal experience of being a rape survivor at this institution, of friends who are survivors leaving due to a lack of institutional support, of friends who are still here and need to face their perpetrators on a consistent basis. Instead of window dressing – hastily fired off tweets and carefully constructed emails – UCT’s structures need to prove that they can be trusted in order to combat underreporting. It’s important that incidents at Rhodes Memorial were reported and the university responded by offering counselling and medical services but we still need to ask questions about the extent of and efficacy of these services.
On the 29 January, we received another one of management’s email communique specials. VC Max Price let the UCT community know that the university will continue to call on additional private security throughout the year – if needed. Apparently, they will be a stand-by defence force against protesting students. I’m waiting for an email informing us that Is UCT going to call on additional security to patrol high risk areas for rape like Rhodes Memorial. So far, they’ve responded by putting more security on the bridge over the M3 and telling us to not walk alone. In terms of dealing with the incidents of sexual assault that happen within residences, I fear that email communique is never coming.
So far the only solution brought forward to deal directly with incidents at Rhodes Memorial is to tell us to not go there after dark. But for protesting students they’re willing to bring in a paramilitary force. In the statement, Price goes on to say: “A university is a space of reasoned debate and reflection, and a shared commitment to mutually respectful engagement. We draw the line at protest actions that subvert or deny the rights of other students, staff and workers to participate in university life. And we will protect these rights.” We can only live in hope for the day that the “rights” of students who are also survivors of sexual violence are also upheld in such a seemingly impassioned way. We can only wait for the day that our safety and mental, emotional and physical well-being is brought to the fore. We cross our fingers, we tell our stories, and we protest for the day that our access to education and the academy is defended.
Dela Gwala is full-time feminist and MA Creative Writing student at the University of Cape Town. This blog post was originally published here: https://genderspecs.wordpress.com/