Minister of Higher Education Dr Blade Nzimande is set to meet with vice-chancellors on Friday to discuss GBV

Universities South Africa (USAf) called a meeting for September 13 with President Cyril Ramaphosa to discuss the scourge of gender-based violence (GBV) in the country and on university campuses.

This call was made on behalf of 26 vice-chancellors of South African universities after the murder and rape of UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana and the murder of UWC student Jess Hess.

The office of the presidency instead sent the Minister of Higher Education, Dr Blade Nzimande to attend the meeting at USAf’s Pretoria headquarters.

Professor Ahmed Bawa, CEO of USAf told Wits Vuvuzela  they were made aware on Tuesday by the office of the presidency that the president would not be able to meet with the vice-chancellors on the Friday.

“This Friday we are meeting with Minister Nzimande in preparation for a meeting with the President,” said Bawa. “The meeting was meant to be this week, but we were notified by the office of the presidency that we will instead meet with Minister Nzimande so he could receive our memorandum. Nothing was said on when we would meet with the president.”.

The aim of the meeting is to address three concerns: the safety of students and staff on campuses; to encourage political and civil society leadership at all levels to work together with the universities; and to make the case that universities, as social institutions, have a role to play in addressing the vexed issue of gender-based violence as they are microcosms of society.

Bawa told Wits Vuvuzela that improving the safety of students and staff on campuses is important. Taking into account that universities are not isolated but are integrated into the physical, political and social environments in which they find themselves, this therefore requires a cross-governmental approach.

“Together with Minister Nzimande we would want to make this point, that there is a process driven by the nature and the intensity of the dual crisis of GBV and xenophobia,”  Bawa added.

When it comes to curbing GBV, universities act as autonomous bodies that address these issues internally. According to Bawa, this is not enough as the criminal justice system needs to be involved.

“We are working together with the Department of Higher Education and Training to create a new envelope of policies and procedures that are aimed to be implemented at universities and TVET colleges. This policy document is currently being discussed in the Cabinet.

“In addition to policies and procedures, there is need for institutions through their staff and students to develop a generation of social activists that take on these issues, not just on their campuses but also in the social contexts in which they find themselves.

“The post-school education and training sector has 2 million students in it. This is a powerful engine for social change,” said the USAf CEO.

Bawa told Wits Vuvuzela there should be a registry of sexual offenders that is made public by universities.

“The issue of sexual offenders is an important one as there have been reports of individuals who have been charged with GBV who then resign and move to other places of work. It has to be addressed and this is one of the issues to be raised with Minister Nzimande and other levels of government on Friday,” he said.

FEATURED IMAGE: Wits University Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Habib is one of the 26 VC’s meeting with Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande.  Photo: File