Over the last year, South Africa witnessed a rebirth of student activism on university campuses across the country with the #FeesMustFall campaign, which called for free education. This wave of activism speaks to the mission of young South Africans, to construct a society founded in the principles of social justice.
A cornerstone of social justice is conceding that our movements ought to be intersectional. Rape culture is prevalent across our university campuses. Moreover, sexual violence has become a warped norm in the broader South African context. It is clear then that dismantling the symptoms of patriarchy remains central to the intersectional cause.
According to an article written in Everyday Feminism, rape culture can be defined as situations in which “sexual assault, rape, and general violence are ignored, trivialised, normalised, or made into jokes.” This is not only limited to situations, but rape culture can be seen entrenched in structures – from government to higher learning institutions.
When we look at the history of social justice movements in South Africa, we will find that the erasure of the contribution of marginalised activists finds commonplace. The #EndRapeCulture campaign at Stellenbosch University seems to be spiralling into the very same trap with the near-to-erasure of black, queer, trans, womxn and non-binary voices who were rallying behind the campaign since its very inception. Now these voices seemed to have side-lined while the campaign is clothed in white feminist rhetoric and is completely void of intersectionality.
Dismantling rape culture on campuses has taken a divisive turn.
Certain right wing organisations have promoted and continue to normalise rape culture by placing the responsibility on womxn address the problem i.e. advertising self-defence classes, with slogans stating “don’t become part of the statistics”. Silent protests with the taping of the mouth (which have been called out as being extremely triggering) coupled with men infiltrating spaces with #NotAllMen rhetoric has proven to be redundant yet is shockingly accepted by white students engaging in conversation. This is a soft handed approach to dealing with a very violent reality in South African society and can no longer be accepted.
One thinks back to last year when a series of marches and occupations were initiated (by the black student-led movement, Open Stellenbosch) to highlight the pressing issue of Rape Culture on campus. This was then received with much backlash as apathetic (mostly white) students responded by criticising methods of protest (as opposed to being outraged by rape culture) taken by the collective while university management hardly responded at all. Now that white students and “legitimised” student leadership structures (like that of the SRC) are at the forefront, the campaign has now become a matter of urgency. The fact that issues of social justice only become issues of legitimate concern when white students join the party is one that needs to be acknowledged and problematised. This makes one ask a couple of questions; when will our struggles be seen as legitimate and worthy of restitution? When will university management listen to our cries and work alongside us to decolonise our institutions of higher learning? And when will the voices of the oppressed be heard?
Furthermore, the erasure of intersectionality is one issue that is of great concern. One cannot deny that there are certain persons within society that are more disposed to incidents of violence and that there are multiple aspects and intersections of one’s identity that contributes to this predisposition. The current #EndRapeCulture discourse seems to be void of fundamentals like intersectionality and is exclusively zooming in on incidents of sexual violence on womxn. This completely negates incidents of compounded violence on Black womxn, trans & non-binary persons as well as the queer community.
It is imperative to note that society is organised along white supremacist and patriarchal lines. Patriarchy continues to aggressively permeate nearly all societies and spaces. Movements such as Patriarchy Must Fall and the Trans Collective at the University of Cape Town as well as the Intersectional Feminists of Open Stellenbosch (IFOS) at Stellenbosch University are only but a few student-led movements committed to dismantling Rape Culture on campuses while giving a voice to marginalised members of society. It is important that we realise that we can no longer fight issues in isolation and that many of these examples of structural violence are largely interlinked. While our generation has embarked on this revolution to construct the type of society that ought to be grounded on ideals of social justice, it is important to remember that intersectionality is key -or else it will be bullshit.
Jodi Williams is a postgrad political science student at Stellenbosch University. She is also a member of Open Stellenbosch, a social justice movement, and a member of its sister collective, the Intersectional Feminists of Open Stellenbosch (IFOS). Jodi is championing the #FeesMustFall campaign at Stellenbosch University and in the Western Cape. She remains committed to social justice and the call for free education. She is also involved in dismantling Rape Culture on campus and smashing patriarchy.
Ijeoma Opara is a postgrad International Relations student at Stellenbosch University. She is also a member of Open Stellenbosch, a social justice movement, and a member of its sister collective, the Intersectional Feminists of Open Stellenbosch (IFOS). Ijeoma remains committed to social justice and the call for free education. She is also involved in dismantling Rape Culture on campus.
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