Pretoria – The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training has welcomed the resumption of classes at Rhodes University following disruptions last week.
Students embarked on protests against what has been termed a “rape culture” at the institution. Twenty-two students have been reportedly raped or sexually assaulted this year.
Students had classes suspended when they protested, some of them half-naked to make an emotional point against the rape culture that they say pervades the university.
Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee, Yvonne Phosa, called on all institutions of higher education to use the power at their disposal to decisively deal with the rape and the perpetrators.
“Even though we understand the sensitivity of this matter and the students’ right to protest, we totally discourage disruptions of the academic calendar around this time when mid-year examinations are a mere few weeks away.
“This is also coupled with the fact that the higher education sector did not have the best start this year,” she said.
Phosa said the committee welcomed the resumption of classes just in time for the mid-term examinations. However, she urged university authorities to address rape as a matter of urgency.
“Rape is one challenge we need to defeat as a society. We cannot afford to look away and act as if nothing is happening. It does not help to produce graduates who carry eternal scars even long after leaving university.
“Female students should feel safe and secure when they enter and exit universities,” Phosa said.
She said society must denounce rape for the despicable crime that is it and that universities must make awareness programme a priority.
“We condemn this with the strongest contempt it deserves,” Phosa said.
Incidents of rape were raised as a concern by student organisations such as Open Stellenbosch earlier in the year at the University of Stellenbosch.