Rhodes University shut down after student takes her own life

Students and staff demand action against gender-based violence on campus

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Photo of a young woman
Khensani Maseko, a student at Rhodes University, took her own life on Friday, 3 August. Photo from Facebook

On Monday the Vice Chancellor of Rhodes University, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, announced a two-day suspension of all academic activities. This comes after Khensani Maseko, a student, took her own life on Friday, 3 August.

On Sunday evening, the Student Representative Council circulated a statement, calling for a “formal academic shutdown” in honour of Maseko.

The SRC believes Maseko was raped and this precipitated the taking of her own life.

On Monday morning hundreds of students gathered outside the Theatre Café before marching to the main administration building. SRC president Nhlakanipho Mahlangu, who led the march, said the the protest was “to mourn Khensani and take a stand against rape culture”.

Maseko was a third-year law and politics student. She represented Rhodes as Miss Varsity Shield in 2017; was a member of the SRC in 2016; and an active member of the Economic Freedom Fighters’ Student Command.

Many of the staff and students gathered outside the administration buildings were angry. They feel the university had done too little to combat rape within the university since students in 2016 posted on social media the #RU Reference list, a list of alleged rapists.

After weeks of protest following the list, the university and SRC formed a task team. “The task team’s report was finalised in December 2016,” said Professor Philip Machanick at the mass gathering on Monday. “If we had implemented this stuff in 2017 we would have been ahead of the MeToo movement.”

In place of academic activities, Tuesday’s programme will include talks, forums and discussions about gender-based violence within the institution.

Mabizela, in response to students questioning, stated that the university was working with SAPS and the National Prosecuting Authority to launch an enquiry into Maseko’s death. He said the alleged rapist had been served with a letter of suspension, while the investigation took place.

On Tuesday, in honour of where Maseko’s journey would have ended at university, students are walking up to Settlers Monument where graduation takes place each year.

In a statement on Tuesday, the university said:

“Rhodes University Vice Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, lowered the University flag this morning in commemoration of third year Bachelor of Arts student, Khensani Maseko’s tragic passing on Friday, 03 August 2018. The flag will fly at half-mast until her funeral.

Khensani passed away after reporting on Monday 30 July, a rape which allegedly took place in May. The University immediately made contact with her family and they travelled the next day from Johannesburg to Grahamstown for a meeting where they elected to take Khensani home for a while. It was also agreed at the meeting that Rhodes University will follow up on the matter.

Khensani was due to return to the University for a meeting with the support and investigation team today. The University, working with the South African Police (SAPS) and the National Prosecuting Authority, is pushing for an inquest into Khensani’s death. A notice to suspend the alleged perpetrator was issued this morning, on the day when Khensani was due to meet with the support and an investigation team.

The tragic passing of Khensani will not mark an end to the investigation into the circumstances leading up to her passing.”


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