It is almost two years since the university released a list of ideas to tackle gender-based violence, but an update on progress is not forthcoming. 

The Wits community remains in the dark about the university’s progress in addressing gender-based violence (GBV) on campus and ensuring the safety of women. The vice-chancellor’s office and the Gender Equity Office (GEO) have opted not to share how far their 2020 proposals to combat GBV have gone.  

In a November 9, 2020, statement, the university listed what it called “innovative and pragmatic ideas” to address GBV, that had emerged from a series of talks between management and various stakeholders. Some of the key points listed were:  

  • engaging students and staff about gender-based harm (GBH) through formal and informal conversations; 
  • enforcing punitive consequences against perpetrators of GBH; 
  • developing online courses on GBH that are mandatory for staff and students who join the university. 
  • reporting anonymously and more regularly on the outcome of matters managed by the GEO; and 
  • participating in a national register which identifies perpetrators who have been found guilty of GBH. 

For two weeks during August 2022, Wits Vuvuzela engaged in back-and-forth communication with these two offices to obtain information pertaining to the progress of implementing these proposed ideas. A request for the number of GBV cases reported from before 2019 and between 2019 and 2022 was also put forward.  

Additional information, including the goals of the university in the coming years regarding its anti-GBV efforts and the role of the Wits Protection Services to secure campus, was requested.  

While awaiting a response from these offices, three Sunnyside Hall of Residence students told Wits Vuvuzela that they were aware of a GBV case during the first semester of 2022, that had been reported to the GEO, but they did not know what had come of that.  

Wits Vuvuzela managed to get a response from the university’s head of communications, Shirona Patel, who said that the information we had requested was collated by the GEO at regular intervals. Patel then concluded her three-line response to our seven questions by stating that this information was only disseminated “to the relevant university structures”. 

The GEO’s response arrived within eight minutes of Patel’s. Written by director Charlene Beukes-Mabaso, it similarly evaded the seven questions sent to the office, only referring to the office’s upcoming events, including a talk with residences, the annual Sekwanele GBV panel discussion, and the painting of a mural dedicated to the late Wits student, Asithandile Zozo, who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in August 2020.  

FEATURED: Wits students protest against rape and sexual violence in the 2016 Silent Protest. Photo: Mokgethwa Masemola