University heads demand meeting with Ramaphosa on gender violence 'epidemic'
The vice-chancellors of all 26 South African universities have asked for a meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa about “an epidemic of incomprehensible violence”.
The varsity leaders issued a statement through Universities South Africa, saying they were reeling from the rape and murder of University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana and the murder of University of the Western Cape student Jesse Hess.
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The statement said SA faced “a truly tragic moment in our country’s history", adding: “This is not the society we want — the status quo pertaining to gender-based harm must change. We cannot stand back and allow women to be violated.
“Our people are angry – angry about the violent abuse of women that happens daily, angry about not being heard, angry about the irrational violence that robs people of their lives, angry about the lawlessness in our country, angry about the wanton destruction of infrastructure and angry about the empty promises and lack of political leadership on these matters. We have every right to be angry.”
But they decried the naming and shaming on social media of alleged sex offenders.
“In the past few days there are cases where individuals, including women, have been identified on social media as perpetrators of gender-based harm, with calls for people to congregate outside their homes to intimidate them,” the statement said.
“On investigation, it was found that some of these accusations were scurrilous and that these accusers used the current moment opportunistically in order to settle scores on unrelated matters.
“These are the unintended consequences of social media and mob justice – where people abuse a just cause to further their own agendas.”
The vice-chancellors also warned of “political forces ... eager to manipulate this national tragedy to fulfil their own agendas – both within and beyond the academic sector, regardless of the rules of universities or the law of the land”.
They said they would approach the presidency “with the view of registering our anger and developing a plan of action for addressing the scourge at universities".
They said: "Universities are powerful social institutions with agency. They have much to contribute to transforming the culture that produces this form of cowardly violence.”