By Andrew Wassung and David Scott
Rape Awareness Week at Rhodes was aimed at making students more aware of sexual violence. It started on Monday, May 14 and ran until Friday, May 19. The theme of the week was “men as partners, not perpetrators”.
The week commenced at 1pm on Monday with each dining hall conducting their own “noise-making” session. This consisted of banging, clapping and screaming, which signalled the start of a five day rape-free zone.
A clothesline was put up in the library quad for victims of sexual abuse or violence to attach their stories to an item of clothing and hang it up. These clothes were donated to the Grahamstown Rape Survivor Support Group on Friday after the men’s march.
About 80 female volunteers spent the whole of Tuesday with taped mouths, to represent the statistic that 8 in 9 women who are raped never report it. The volunteers were unable to speak, eat or drink for about 11 hours. Flyers were handed out during the course of the day, with statistics such as “If a woman lives to be 50 years old, she has almost a 100% chance of being raped.”
Deborah Robertson, a volunteer, shared her experience: “Some [students] were approving, some said we
were overreacting and being melodramatic. People pointed, laughed and sniggered, others just ignored us. It was a very moving and emotional experience, especially the march to the cathedral in the rain. It was a very eye-opening experience to the fact that so many people are just apathetic and don’t care and don’t realise that rape is everyone’s problem.”
A concert entitled “Stop the Violence/ Violins” was held on Wednesday at the Old Gaol. There were a variety of protest songs and the music was predominantly acoustic. Performers including the all-girl band Bella Donna from Port Elizabeth and Dave Knowles, of the Bourgeois Ninja Club, played on the night. “It was amazing to see so many people performing for such a good cause,” said Stuart Thomas, a performer at the concert.
The week ended with the “men as partners, not perpetrators” march on Friday, May 8. It was a men-only march, however women gathered tocheer on the sidelines. The SRC and African Drum Society led the crowd of over 200 men from The Union to the administration building chanting: “Real men don’t rape,” “Break the silence, stop the violence” and “You strike a woman you strike a rock.” Dr Colin Johnson, the Rhodes vice-principal, and Ricardo Pillay, SRC media representative, addressed the crowd.
Johnson advised the crowd about how men on campus could reduce rape. “Report abuse, interrupt harassment,” he said, adding that “evasion, denial and defensiveness are no longer enough. We need to speak up.” Johnson told the crowd that men have the ability and the responsibility to end rape.
Pillay recited the “men as partners” pledge, which aimed to combat sexual violence, and was able to announce that at least 1100 men on campus had signed the pledge. Pillay explained that a letter, signed by students, demanding that the Sexual Offences Bill to be passed immediately, is being sent to parliament.
Larissa Klazinga, assistant to the dean of students, was surprised that such a large number of men participated in the march and was glad that senior management had spoken out. “My faith is restored,” she said.
Kwezilomso Mbandazayo, a student, addressed the crowd: “As a woman, I am glad to know that you men are our partners, not our perpetrators.”
“Rape is not a man’s problem, it’s everyone’s problem. As men, we need to stand up for what’s right” said Abo Faxi, SRC Kimberley Hall representative. Evan Ford, SRC vice-president, said, “The week has been successful. It showed that Rhodes refuses to be silent any longer. Silence is violence!”
The aim of Rape Awareness Week was to make students more aware of sexual violence in South Africa, however rape is still a problem at Rhodes. Over the last three weeks, three Rhodes students have allegedly been raped. Two of these alleged rapes reportedly occured on campus and one in an entertainment establishment on New Street. The most recent incident occured last weekend. The 1 in 9 Campaign states that one out of nine rape survivors report incidences of rape or sexual violence, according to national statistics. Klazinga says she feels that “people are not getting the message”.