Dear member of the Stellenbosch University (SU) community
I am pleased to announce that the joint working groups established last year to combat gender-based violence (GBV) at our institution have completed their work and published a final report. This lays the foundation for all stakeholders to go forward together against this scourge on our campuses and more broadly in society.
The report reiterates that SU has a zero-tolerance approach to gender-based violence and is committed to creating an environment and institutional culture free of gender violence and advancing equal rights and social justice for all. We condemn, and will not tolerate, GBV, which is why we are mustering all the resources at our disposal to fight it.
Let me briefly provide some background. Following nationwide protests against GBV and femicide in 2019, the Anti-GBV Movement SU handed over a memorandum to management, to which we responded. In subsequent meetings, six joint working groups were set up to act systemically to combat GBV and address the issues raised in the memorandum as well as the reply.
A member of the Rectorate served in each of the six working groups, which also comprised representatives from University structures most relevant to the topics under discussion, as well as from the student body. The working groups reported to the Rectorate, through the Senior Director: Student Affairs, Dr Choice Makhetha.
The work of the respective groups centred on (1) values and principles, (2) procedures and processes, (3) residences and structures, (4) mental health and alcohol and substance abuse, (5) training and awareness, and (6) safety and security. The groups were tasked to investigate the issues and requested to make specific and implementable recommendations linked to line functions.
The working groups set about gathering information by hosting meetings and discussion forums on our Stellenbosch and Tygerberg campuses, and distributing questionnaires. To broaden the process, all students and staff were invited to submit written inputs.
A draft report was submitted to the Rectorate, to which we provided feedback, followed by the final report, which has since been distilled into a draft action plan that aims to address GBV systemically across the University over the short to medium term.
The final report and draft action plan will be discussed with institutional bodies and other relevant role-players in the coming weeks with a view to finalise the specifics of implementation, including timeframes. Both documents will then be published on the SU website.
This work will happen through different responsibility centres at the University and will be integrated into the different operational facets of our institution. Regular progress reports will be submitted to the Rectorate.
However, I must stress that curbing GBV is the joint responsibility of the entire University community. As Dr Makhetha says in her introduction to the report, this is not a fight any group can fight on its own or separately from others. Implementation of the action plan will be monitored on an ongoing basis and progress and achievements reported regularly to the University community.
The broader context of our fight against GBV is provided by the Constitution of South Africa, the Higher Education Act, other applicable legislation and the current SU Statute (published in 2019). The South African judicial system has the responsibility to deal with criminal procedures in terms of applicable legislation.
SU has educational and safety measures to curb violence as much as possible. The University has the mandate to act in accordance with our Disciplinary Code for Students, Policy on Unfair Discrimination and Harassment, Use of Alcohol Policy, as well as our disciplinary codes and processes. All of these will be reviewed in relation to the recommendations and shortcomings pointed out in the report of the joint working groups, as well as the key tenets of the recently published Policy Framework to Address GBV in the Post-School Education and Training System.
All our actions are rooted in our institutional values of excellence, compassion, accountability, respect and equity. We are opposed to all forms of harm to the dignity and well-being of individual members of our university community.
While allowing for contextual differences, SU will strive to ensure parity on all our campuses with the implementation of various measures flowing from the action plan to eradicate all forms of GBV and inequity.
I would like to join Dr Makhetha in expressing my gratitude to all the staff members and students who have served on the working groups. We appreciate the work done by everyone involved not only to raise concerns and grievances, but also offer constructive suggestions.
We remain committed to collaborating with all our staff and students to intensify the institutional efforts against GBV, and to address unacceptable behaviours and practices.
Prof Wim de Villiers
Rector and Vice-Chancellor