A group of Nelson Mandela University students staged a silent protest at the university’s graduation ceremony on the South Campus on Friday - over an alleged rapist graduating.
Wearing black and holding placards, saying "Congratulations, my rapist is graduating", the small group of students stood up during the first graduation ceremony of the day.
In a letter sent to the university on Wednesday, the group - calling themselves Activist ConneXtions - wrote that 10 cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault had been reported on the campus since the beginning of 2019.
They wrote: “To date, these cases have not been investigated and no dockets have been opened at [the university’s] legal services. Applications for no-contact orders and summary suspensions have been stalled at legal and protection services, forcing victims to share the same space as their abusers on a daily basis.
“Activist ConneXctions can also confirm that it received news of the graduation of convicted rapist [from 2018] during the autumn graduation taking place between April 5 and 13 2019.
"This is an indication of the failure of the university to do what is reasonably expected of them as per the Sexual Harassment and Sexual Offences Policy (2017).
“The graduation of students who have been found guilty of rape and other sexual offences, is a direct result of the failure of the university disciplinary process.
"Students who are currently facing disciplinary processes for sexual offences, should not be at graduation or participate in any university activities until such a time that their case is completed.
"What is even more offensive is the celebration of convicted students at the 2019 autumn graduation, as if their crimes are not real.
“Activist ConneXions will protest autumn graduation and call on the university to meet the following demands:
Release the outcomes of completed trials with the quarterly report from the Transformation, Monitoring and Evaluation Unit;
Immediately reverse the decision of the committee which suspended the expulsion of a rapist to allow him to graduate on April 5 2019;
Appoint an investigating body to resolve the nine cases of sexual assault that have been reported since January 2019;
Issue the necessary protective measures as per Appendix 1 clause 8.1 of the Sexual Harassment and Sexual Offences Policy to all victims/survivors who have reported a case from January 2019;
Amend the Sexual Harassment and Sexual Offences Policy to force panels to complete cases within 10 days; and
Appoint a co-ordinating body to implement and audit the response and prevention protocol for gender- and sex-based violence.
"If the university fails to act on this statement, we will interpret it as a signal of their allegiance with perpetrators over victims/survivors.
"The battle lines have been drawn between patriarchy and an equity-based reality. We can only wish that the university will choose the latter," the letter read.
One of the Activist ConneXtion co-ordinators - Nangamso Nxumalo, 23 - confirmed that the group had sent the letter on Wednesday, adding that a statement the group was preparing would be sent out later on Friday.
NMU spokesperson Zandile Mbabela said: “There was a silent protest by about four students who held up placards in front of the stage. Chancellor Dr Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi acknowledged the action and committed to follow up."
Mbabela could not immediately comment on the contents of Wednesday's letter.