Bring back Gabriella Oliver

On Monday the 25th of July 2016, as most students looked forward to commencing the second leg of the academic year, the University of the Western Cape (UWC) suspended me for defending workers who had been sexually harassed by the hostile private securities, employed by the Rector/ Vice-Chancellor himself, Tyroné Pretorious.

Apart from a one year suspension from all academic activities around South Africa, the sanction for standing up against patriarchy and rape culture at UWC includes a R15000 fine and an order that I undergo six months of therapy as ordered by a panel of three professionals with no psychology degrees/license or experience whatsoever.

Below are the facts of the matter:

A peaceful demonstration took place outside Campus Protection Services (CPS) offices after CPS refused to take the statement of an assaulted female worker who had been followed into the female bathroom by a sexual predator among their number. (It is not the first time justice had been denied to workers and students who report sex-related crimes). The workers requested that I go to the rectors office in an attempt to get him to come and substantively address the workers on the ground.

On my arrival at his office his lawyer lied to me and said the rector is not in the country and unavailable, when in fact the rector was in his air-conditioned office. This is the usual excuse every time students try to reach out to the rector. When he eventually relented and appeared, it took a lot of convincing, energy and negotiating with the rector to justify why he must provide answers to the workers as he is the head of the institution where employees are being sexually assaulted under his watch. The rector refused to listen to the pleas of the workers who are also labour exploited workers earning a mere R2 700 per month.

After arguing, the rector eventually gave in and said he will only speak for a few minutes. I told him he can’t just brief the workers and leave it at that, more needed to be done as his employees are unsafe at their workplace, but the rector ignored us and became arrogant and hurriedly walked away from the students and workers after a worker told him to his face that she had been sexually assaulted on campus in 2013 and nothing materialized from her case.

This is how patriarchy, the guardian of rape culture, operates. The rector is an agent of patriarchy and is therefore a facilitator of rape culture on his campus. His display of arrogance in the face of desperation from the assaulted worker then provoked the workers and students, including me. That’s when I threw a brick at a window to get his attention. At no stage was the rector in personal danger, and at no stage was he targeted. He then summoned his lawyer to deal with me, after which he went back to his office, presumably to continue to be unavailable (or “overseas”) to those who he has charge over.

In a quick and unfair trial on Monday the 25th July 2016, UWC management suspended me for a duration of 1 year from university, R15 000 fine added to my already exorbitant fees for damages of a camera that was scratched by a piece of concrete (which the university accused me of however their video footage does not display who threw the stone).

I refuse to attend any therapy session provided by the university and recommended by unqualified people as I do not feel safe nor do I trust anything that the institution offers students. These are the same people who did not protect my interests as a student and young woman. I am offended that the university is implying I’m not mentally stable. The inference of psychological dysfunction is a well-worn weapon of misogyny when patriarchy deals with women challenging it’s power structure.

I am a proud student and workers activist and will always stand for the right thing. This institution has been bullying students and workers voices for far too long. My academic suspension will not allow me to study anywhere else in the country for the time being, this exposes the serious anti-black, anti-student, anti-worker, corruption occurring at UWC. The ugly truth is that this university has a history and tendency to hide sexual assault and rape reports occurring on campus premises from the wider public. The rector as an agent of patriarchy and rape culture must be replaced in ignominy.

I accept that I should not have thrown the brick, but the punishment meted out is completely disproportionate, especially in an environment where sexual assault, a serious crime, is swept under the carpet by the institution and its agents.

This injustice has now left me without a degree and forced me to be part of the 54.50% youth unemployment rate in South Africa and therefore I will not be able to play an active role in stimulating and driving the economy. My suspension should be removed and and I should be reinstated back into the UWC community as I have the right to access higher learning education.

Furthermore, and most importantly, all incidents of sexual violence must be reported, investigated, it’s perpetrators punished and it’s victims protected. Those who stand for the survivors of sexual violence must not be victimized by authority as is the case here. Patriarchy must fall. Rape culture must fall. For these things to happen Tyroné Pretorious must fall.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: