#RhodesWar: University disputes claims that it maliciously excluded anti-rape protestors

The students who were excluded by Rhodes University for participating in the #RUReferenceList protest in 2016 said the university was unjust in its decision to do so. A #RhodesWar hashtag broke out on social media after two students from the university received lifetime expulsions for protesting against rape culture on campus.

At the time of the protest, the university had been granted a temporary interdict against protesting students who vandalised campus property, kidnapped and assaulted those who were accused of sexual assault.

One of the two students, Yolanda Dyantyi, who was doing her final year, said she was excluded two exams away from obtaining her undergraduate degree. “I was excluded on the 17th of November and was charged with kidnapping, assault, insubordination and defamation,” she said. Applying at other institutions may be difficult for her as her transcript has been endorsed with an unsatisfactory conduct record.

Dyantyi also said that she tried to submit a letter of appeal but the university barred her from doing so. “I am also on NSFAS, and I am obviously expected to pay back the money, when I do eventually get a job, because I used it at the three years I was at Rhodes,” she said. he felt like she was not afforded a fair trial. “I didn’t even testify, they said the hearing was taken too much time,” she added.

[UPDATE]: The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (Seri), a rights advocacy organisation representing Dyantyi said the university’s sanction against the student was unreasonable and unlawful. Seri also said it will launch an application to the high court to review and set aside disciplinary proceedings brought against Ms Dyantyi.”

Another student, Simamkele Heleni, said the university filed an interdict against for participating in the protest. “I was excluded at the end of last year, the letter was dated December [2016] but I only received it in May 2017 and it stated that I had a pending disciplinary hearing but only should I return to Rhodes,” she said.

Heleni said she is struggling to apply at other universities because her transcript states she has a pending disciplinary hearing.

The #RUReferenceList was an anti-rape protest to raise about violence against women on campuses. Since the student outcry against rape culture at the university, two students were permanently excluded and one student was excluded for 10 years for rape. Some have criticised the university for employing what they believe is a double standard.

More students who claim to be excluded for their participation during the protest came forward to share their experiences.

Noxolo Mfocwa was also excluded in her final year in 2016 and has been barred from going back to Rhodes for three years. She said she was charged with alleged assault and bringing the university’s name into disrepute. Mfocwa claims that the university has been targeting students who active in the #RUReferenceList and #FeesMustFall movements and looking for ways to exclude them. “They could have just given me a more lenient or rehabilitated sentence. They could have made me do community service in the months preceding graduation, but all they decided was that I wasn’t going to graduate,” she said.

In a press statement released by the university, it dismissed claims that the students were excluded for taking part in the protest. It said that the matter had been heard in the high court, the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court, and that its decision to expel the students was based on the courts’ findings that they carried out “unlawful acts” that “made serious inroads into the rights and liberties of others”.

The deputy minister of higher education Buti Manamela said on Tuesday that he would look into the claims made by the excluded students.

Featured image by Joshua Stein