Protesters united at Wits University today to show their solidarity for victims of sexual violence in South Africa  in an event that took place at other universities around the country.

At 6am this morning protestors at Rhodes University in Grahamstown gathered in preparation for the Silent protest. The silent protest started at Rhodes 6 years ago where about 100 people joined. This year 1500 protesters marched from Alec Mullins at Rhodes and 1150 showed support at Wits University.

This is Wits’ first year joining in the silent protest along with UKZN, UCT and Fort Hare.

Protestors marching from the amic deck to the great hall. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Protestors marching from the amic deck to the great hall. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

The protest kicked off at 8am outside the Wits Matrix where purple t-shirts  were distributed and mouths were taped. People who were gagged were silenced and could not eat, drink or talk until they broke their silence at 3pm. The march started at the bottom of Amic Deck, proceeded down to the Commerce, Law and Management building.

The protesters then marched  up Yale road, turned left at the traffic circle, past the old mutual sports building, the matrix and Umthombo building. It then proceeded outside senate house towards Dulce and came to a stop in the senate house concourse.

During the silent procession, all that could be heard was footsteps of the marchers as they  held hands in symbolic support of each other. Saddened, red eyes could be spotted among the protestors. The thick, grey mist that loomed over campus throughout the day seemed to mirror protestors  feelings of pain and uneasiness, and an overriding sense of anxiety could be felt walking with these rape victims.

Protestors were addressed by three speakers. Lauren Gmeiner, intern psychologist at CCDU,  gave shocking statistics of sexual violence in South Africa. “ore than 65 000 sexual crimes were reported in South Africa in 2012. One out of 25 women report sexual violence to the police, according SAPS”. “Rape limits human potential – it silences them,” said Gmeiner.

A rape survivor, Tumi, spoke out about her experience of working through the psychological repercussions of sexual violence. “A woman is raped every 17 seconds in South Africa,” Tumi said.

Actress and activist, Rosie Motene spoke about her experience of physical abuse. Motene took the crowd through the traumatic encounter when she was in university and her boyfriend beat her, leaving her with a cracked rib, a blue eye, bruises and cuts.

Motene said the words of her family and friends, that “It’s not your fault, we are with you,” got her through her struggle. Motene addressed the issue of sexual violence within the university and said, “These stories were swept under the carpet for too long,” and that is the problem. Motene empahsised that students had “a right to be protected.”

“Always make sure your candle is burning bright” said Motene.

Kelly Gillespie, lecturer in the Anthropology department, spoke about sex being pleasurable and not crossing the “bright, red, neon line” of consent. Gillespie said, “ 1 in 3 women will be raped in her lifetime”.

Amid the speakers, 48 rapes between December 27, 2012 and March 14, 2013 were read out to the protestors.

The die-in was then held where people lay down on the floor in silence to give an image of how many people are affected by rape, and how many lose their lives to sexual violence.

A sense of comfort and intimacy filled the room as victims cried, held each other and supported each other. It became a safe place to speak out about their experiences.

The protest ended with  Drama 4 Life students performing a realistc skit of the psychological state of victims post-rape, and the courage it takes to remove the tape and break your silence.

Victims then broke their silence by removing the tape from the mouths and went on to a debrief where they reflected on the events of the day.