'Student gender violence mirrors society'
The scourge of gender violence and femicide in higher institutions of learning is nothing but a reflection of what is happening in the broader society‚ say experts.
Femicide continues to happen in academic spaces‚ with this week Zolile Khumalo from the Mangosuthu University of Technology losing her life at the hands of a male. She is not the only one. Many cases have been reported of young women falling prey to rapists and murderers in educational institutions.
Khumalo was allegedly killed by her ex-boyfriend on Tuesday night at her Lonsdale student residence. The suspect‚ Thabani Mzolo‚ is an former student at the institution.
Dee Smythe‚ author of 'Rape Unresolved: Policing sexual offences in South Africa'‚ said one cannot separate what happens in universities from the broader society.
“In terms of attitudes towards women - the[re’s a] belief that men should and do have free and unfettered access to women’s bodies. [There's also] the general lack of accountability when they hurt women‚” said Smythe.
Sometimes the layers of rules that universities generally impose to regulate student relationships are successful.
“I think there are interesting analogies to men who kill partners at their workplaces and the obligation of corporations to keep their employees safe. I don’t know of any university that has a mechanism for reporting that you fear for your life from an outsider‚” Smythe added.
Echoing Smythe’s views‚ Ilitha Labantu spokesperson Siyabulela Monakali said violence against women is a 'system problem'‚ which is deeply rooted in the fabric of society. Institutions themselves uphold or harbour patriarchal and misogynistic norms that continually undervalue women and discriminate against them.
Ilitha Labantu‚ an organisation which fights the gross violation of human rights and violence perpetrated towards women and girls‚ is of the view that not enough is being done to effectively address this crisis.
Universities South Africa (Usaf) has condemned the MUT incident in which Zolile Khumalo lost her life. “We call on all South Africans to unite in the condemnation of this atrocity‚” said acting CEO Dr Berene Kramer. “We applaud that a criminal process is already underway and that the law is now taking its course.”
Kramer went on to say that universities are spaces for intellectual exchange where women should feel safe throughout. “We live in a patriarchal society that needs to confront the culture of coercion – especially towards women. We need to teach conflict management to our children and the power of restraint.
"We need to engage in open dialogue and learn as society to intervene when conflict unfolds in our midst. Collectively‚ we can deter violent crime and make South Africa a better place for all.”
Adding to the conversation‚ Minister in the Presidency Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has expressed her concern over the scourge of gender violence in institutions of learning.
“We condemn in the strongest terms the killing of Khumalo and trust that our justice system will prevail the same way it did in the case of Mantsoe. The sentencing of Mantsoe should send a stern warning to all other perpetrators of violence against women to desist from committing such deplorable acts.
“We have full confidence in our law enforcement that those implicated in the murder of Khumalo will be brought to book‚” Dlamini-Zuma said in a statement.
Across universities‚ students often embark on protests against the rape culture and violence against women in campuses. Early this week students at the Witwatersrand University protested against the latest violation under #brokethesilence.